Latino Demographics: Educational Status and Implications for a 21st Century U.S. Economy

by Angel L. Velez / Jul 31, 2017

For the past decade, we have heard about the nation’s changing demographics and what it means for the nation. Many of us were excited to learn about the upcoming shift and imagined a world where minoritized people would be able to have more political and economic power. The Latino community was at the center of this hotly debated topic since it has been one of the fastest growing populations for the past four decades. When Barack Obama was running for office in 2008, political leaders and media pundits emphasized the Latino community’s role and impact during the election. The Latino “swing vote” became an instant term detailing the newfound voting power. From this moment forward, the Latino political influence would shape future elections due to their geographic location in the Electoral College. In 2016, the Latino population reached 57 million people, reflecting 17.8% of the total population. With the shifting demographics, we have also seen a spike in anti-immigrant and nativist rhetoric, often fueled by racism and xenophobia. While we have felt the demographic changes in every major industry, the population increases in the education sector have been significant.

For Latinos, education is one of the most important issues. In the 2016 election, 83% of Latinos cited education as a critical issue, along with the economy and healthcare. Many Latino families understand the importance of a college credential, and they see it as a way to increase upward economic mobility. A report by Excelencia in Education documents substantial improvements in Latino educational attainment from 2004 to 2015.

  • Population. The Latino population has grown from 13 to 17% of the population (and increased by 9 million people).
  • K-12 enrollment. The representation of Latino students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools has increased from 19 to 24% of all students.
  • K-12 academic achievement. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed in both math and reading, Latino students had scores below the national average but have increased by double digits over the last 10 years.
  • High school completion. Latino students’ high school completion increased from 57 to 65%, and their percentage of high school dropouts has cut in half to 13%.
  • College enrollment. The college enrollment rate for Latinos increased from 54 to 70%, resulting in a higher rate of Latino students enrolling directly after their high school graduation than White or African American students.
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). The numbers of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (enrolling a high concentration of Latinos) increased from 238 to 370, an increase of over 50%.
  • College completion: Latino adults who had earned an associate degree or higher have increased from 17 to 22%. (Excelencia in Education Factbook, 2015)

While the Latino educational attainment has continued to rise over the years, racial and ethnic discrepancies in educational outcomes continue to persist. Responding to the demographic shift and challenges for Latino education, Gándara and Mordechay (2017) expressed,

As a group they perform academically far behind their European American and Asian peers throughout school, but perhaps the most telling statistic are the disparities in high school graduation and college completion, which are arguably the most critical outcome measures of a student’s K–12 experience. (p. 148)

For some of us, these racial and ethnic disparities have been the norm for some time now, especially the ways race, gender, and class work to undermine current efforts across educational settings. The fact that Latino high school and college graduation is on the increase provides a positive outlook for future economic employment and mobility. In 2016, the Lumina Foundation released a paper detailing the benefits of a college education to individuals and society. These benefits included higher income, greater job security, lower poverty rate, reduction in crime, and many others (Trostel, 2015). Most of us with college credentials, whether an associate’s degree or an advanced degree, can attest to the impact of having a post-secondary training in our personal lives and communities. By 2020, 65% of the jobs will require a post-secondary education. While progress has been made in this area, structural factors continue to influence Latino high school and college attainment. The only way we can reach the 2020 post-secondary graduation goal is by increasing the number of Latinos and other minoritized communities with high school and college degrees. Therefore, we all must be invested in their success.


  • Excelencia in Education. (2015). The condition of Latinos in education: 2015 factbook. Washington, DC: Excelencia in Education.
  • Gándara, P., & Mordechay, K. (2017, April). Demographic change and the new (and not so new) challenges for Latino education. In The Educational Forum, 81(2), p. 148-159. doi: 10.1080/00131725.2017.1280755
  • Trostel, P., & Chase Smith, M. (2015). It’s not just the money: The benefits of college education to individuals and to society. Indianapolis, IN: Lumina Foundation.