Study: Latina Girls Have Highest Dropout Rate

W A S H I N G T O N, Jan. 25, 2001 -- Hispanic girls have a higher high school dropout rate than girls in other racial or ethnic groups and are the least likely to earn a college degree, according to the American Association of University Women.

Schools must do more to recognize cultural values that saddle Hispanic girls with family responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings after school, that take away from educational endeavors, researchers said in a report released Wednesday.

"If we want Latinas to succeed as other groups of girls have, schools need to work with and not against their families and communities and the strengths that Latinas bring to the classroom," said Angela Ginorio, the study's author.

The report, citing Census Bureau statistics, said the dropout rate for Latinas ages 16 to 24 is 30 percent, compared with 12.9 percent for blacks and 8.2 percent for whites.

Only 10 percent of Hispanic women completed four or more years of college, compared with 13.9 percent of blacks and 22.3 percent of whites, according to the National Council of La Raza, an umbrella organization for Hispanic groups.

"Many Latinas face pressure about going to college from boyfriends and fiances who expect their girlfriends or future wives not to be `too educated' and from peers who accuse them of `acting white' when they attempt to become better educated or spend time on academics," the study said.

A Woman’s Responsibility

At the University of Texas at El Paso, the Mother-Daughter Program targets sixth-grade Latinas, using tutoring and "big sisters" to encourage the girls to graduate from high school and attend college. It also helps Hispanic mothers return to school.

"Part of the dropout rate problem has been the belief that the girl has to work to help the family and besides, she's going to get married anyway so why go to college?" said Josefina Tinajero, the program director.

"I think there needs to be a tremendous awareness in communities about this, especially in those that have smaller numbers of Hispanics," she said. "They need to know how to work with this population."

Latinas are the country's fastest-growing female minority population, while Hispanics as a whole will account for 25 percent of the nation's school population in 2030.

The researchers recommended educators pay closer attention to the cultural issues faced by Hispanic girls, recruit Hispanic teachers who can serve as role models and involve entire families in decisions about college.

Study’s Other Findings

Hispanic girls are underrepresented in gifted and talented and advanced placement courses.

Hispanic girls are less likely to take the SAT college entrance exam than their white or Asian counterparts, and those who do score lower on average than the other girls.

Among Hispanics, more girls than boys take the SAT exam, but the girls score lower.

More Hispanic women than men obtain associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees, but more men earn professional and doctorate degrees.

Raul Gonzalez, National Council of La Raza education policy analyst, said having qualified teachers and rigorous curriculums are the best ways to improve the performance of Hispanic girls and boys.

"I think the bottom line is we need to improve schools for Hispanics altogether," Gonzalez said.