This month, Texas became the fourth U.S. state to achieve a majority-minority population -- following California, New Mexico, and Hawaii. In each state except Hawaii, Hispanics make up the largest percentage of the population. About 40% of the population in Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York, and Arizona are minorities, so these states aren't that far behind.
This trend has broad implications for every aspect of American life, but its effect on the states' overall high school graduation rates, in particular, has the education community concerned. Hispanic students -- many of whom must learn English as a second language -- have lower high school completion rates than whites or blacks, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2000, 64% of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics had attended and completed high school, compared with 92% of whites and 84% of blacks.
Nevertheless, Hispanics are only slightly less likely than whites or blacks to express satisfaction with their own educations. According to a recent Gallup Poll*, 79% of Hispanics are satisfied, including 43% who are very satisfied. That compares with 86% of blacks (including 43% who are very satisfied) and 88% of whites (of whom 46% are very satisfied).
Hispanics certainly have reason to be dissatisfied with their educations. Many live in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods with low-performing schools. But follow-up interviews with some of the survey respondents underscore the reluctance to express dissatisfaction with one's education. "I am only 'somewhat satisfied' with my education because my high school did not prepare me very well for anything -- the teachers had to spend so much time maintaining order, they had very little time to teach us things," says Miceal, a 19-year-old Hispanic respondent from Wisconsin. "In fact, my school was so bad, it was shut down this year."
Juan, a 46-year-old Hispanic from Texas, is just "somewhat satisfied" with his own education. "The school was OK, but I wasn't very happy with my own performance there. I started a family at a very young age and had to go to work. After that, there was no money for college; I wish there had been," he says.
Poverty is a barrier to higher education for many Hispanics. Median household income for Hispanics fell by 2.6% to $33,000 between 2002 and 2003, according to the U. S. Census, while other groups experienced no change. The median income in non-Hispanic white households, by comparison, was $47,800 in 2003.
Born in the U.S.A.
Satisfaction with education is greater among Hispanics who were born in the United States. Eighty-six percent of Hispanics born in the United States say they are satisfied with their own educations (including 50% who are very satisfied), compared with 72% of Hispanics who were born outside the United States (36% are very satisfied).
The data show that respondents who requested an interview in Spanish -- the vast majority of whom were born outside the United States -- show lower levels of educational satisfaction than Hispanics who completed the interview in English.
"This is consistent with other data, which shows that U.S. schools are not providing adequate services to language minorities and immigrant students," says Miriam Calderon, an education policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit Hispanic advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Last week, the Center on Education Policy released a review of graduation exams for the 19 states that require them, and found that limited-English students scored 30 points to 40 points lower than other students did. As more states phase in high school exit exams to comply with No Child Left Behind requirements, remedial language intervention will be important to increase the graduation rates among Hispanic students.
Despite many obstacles in their educational paths, the majority of Hispanic Americans are satisfied with their educations. This level of contentment is consistent with other aspects of their life that were rated in the poll -- their jobs, health, housing, and life in general.
*Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,264 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 6-25, 2005, including oversamples of blacks and Hispanics that are weighted to reflect their proportions in the general population. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.
Results for the sample of 511 Hispanics, aged 18 and older, are based on telephone interviews, conducted June 6-25, 2005. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. (181 out of the 511 interviews with Hispanics were conducted in Spanish.)