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Arizona's best and brightest Latinos
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Arizona's best and brightest Latinos

A new report from Morrison Institute for Public Policy unveils a bit of good news for Arizona’s education system. The state’s schools have been the source of much anxiety for years. The Latino education gap has been a particular worry since Morrison published Five Shoes Waiting to Drop in 2001. With Latino students soon to be a majority of our K-12 population, it is clear that their education is closely tied to Arizona’s economic future. The role of increased college education in enhancing the state’s economy has recently been examined out by researchers at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

Morrison Institute’s research indicates that for a small segment of Latino and low-income students, the gap seems to have closed. The very best high school students in both of these groups perform as well as their non-Latino and higher income peers when it comes to college attendance and college graduation rates. This somewhat surprising finding contradicts the conventional wisdom that highly achieving minority and low-income students are missing out on the opportunity for higher education. The study found that in nearly all respects the post-high school outcomes of these students were statistically identical to their peers.

This bit of good news for a small segment of Latino and low-income students is tempered by two major challenges still facing other students. First, the percent of Latino and low-income students who fall into the highly-achieving category is very low. Non-Latino and higher income students were about five times more likely to have the GPA and test score needed to classify them as highly achieving. The few Latino and poor students who manage to excel in high school do very well after they graduate, but there just aren’t very many of them.

Second, a worrisome education gap becomes apparent when we look at a considerably larger group – those Latino and low-income students who are not superstars but do qualify for admission to one of the state’s universities. These bright but not excelling students are attending college at a significantly lower rate than their peers. They represent a much larger chunk of the high school population than the truly brilliant students in the highly achieving group, so post-secondary education for them can have a huge impact on the state’s future workforce and economic productivity.

Educational leaders in Arizona have struggled for years to close an education gap that has the potential to cripple our economy. This study may show evidence that their efforts have started to move the needle toward positive change. The fact that many highly-achieving  students appear to have good access to higher education is cause for celebration, but there is still much to be done. In a low-income state with a large Latino population, we need to craft an educational system that unlocks the potential of these populations and allows more of them to excel in high school and beyond. We also need to look at expanding opportunities for a larger segment of high school students to attend and graduate from college.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Dan Hunting is a Senior Policy Analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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