Study focuses on higher education
LA Daily News
Sept 8, 2005

By Naush Boghossian and Rachel Uranga, Staff Writers

Drop in learning curve may hinder L.A. growth

Mexican-American children make large educational strides over their parents and grandparents, although the gains slow by the third generation - a trend that will eventually hinder economic growth in Los Angeles and other cities, a study released Thursday says. 

The portion of Californians who graduate from high school jumps from 25 percent for Mexican-born parents who immigrate to the U.S. to 86 percent for their American-born children, according to the study by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California. 

College completion rates quadruple from 3 percent for the immigrant generation to 12 percent for their children.

But progress from the second to the third generation and beyond isn't as large, making it difficult for Mexican-Americans to catch up with other immigrant groups who attain higher rates of K-12 and college education.

"While we see progress, it's not sufficient to meet California's economic needs," said economist Deborah Reed, who co-authored the study.

Reed said the study has far-reaching consequences in California, given its huge population of Mexican-Americans, which is growing faster than most other groups.  

"What happens to the second and third generations of Mexican-Americans is the story of California. It's important to raise an educated work force."  

By the third generation, for example, just 11 percent of Mexican-American adults have earned a bachelor's degree. But among whites, more than a third have bachelor's degrees by the third generation, according to the study.  

But even if the progress among Mexican-American continues at the same rate, only 17 percent of the grandchildren of today's Mexican immigrants would attain a bachelor's degree.  

The projected low education levels of future generations is a threat to the state's economy, with one-third of its youth population - now age 13-24 - being of Mexican descent, the study concludes.  

And the effects would be more acutely felt in Los Angeles, which has the highest percentage of second-generation Mexican-Americans in the nation. Of that population in L.A., 10 percent are first generation; 55 percent are second generation; and 35 percent are third generation and beyond.  

"This is a big issue for Los Angeles, obviously, because it has such a large number of second-generation kids - kids whose parents are immigrants - and when we looked at it down the road and some of these projections, obviously L.A. is at the cutting edge of these trends," said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the PPIC and a co-author of the study.  

What's at stake for Los Angeles and the state as a whole is the competitiveness of their economies in the coming decades.  

In 2020, California would need 40 percent college graduates to support its industries, but at this rate it will have just 33 percent, the study said.  

"I think this is a real warning for the state," Johnson said.  

If the state doesn't improve its college graduation rates, it may have to bring in more college graduates from other states, export less-skilled and less-educated people to other states, or have the industrial mix of California change to reflect the education levels achieved by its population, Johnson said.  

Cities with less-skilled workers also have less tax revenue and a population that needs more government services in the form of income support or social welfare programs, he said.  

The education gap between Mexican-Americans and other immigrant groups stems mainly from disparities in family income and the education achieved by older generations, the authors said. Also, Mexicans who come to the United States often end up working and not attending school.  

Generations of poverty kept Arthur Burruel's grandparents and parents from college. 

Burruel, a third-generation Mexican-American, started working at the age of 15. But he vowed his daughter, Annamaria, would do better. She became the first in their family to graduate from college and she now plans to attend law school. 

"I don't recall conversations about college as a child," Burruel said. "Blue collar is what we came from. Blue collar people do the best they can with their family and they live day by day." 

Annamaria worked two jobs - one as a waitress on the night shift - to put herself through Loyola Marymount University. She often had only a few hours of sleep at night. 

"I always felt like an outsider in (my culture) because I wanted to go to college," she said.  

With education taking on a growing importance in the California labor market, the study recommends improving the quality of K-12 public education and targeting the workplace to offer programs that help workers develop English and literacy skills.  

But a big concern remains the low transfer rate to four-year institutions, which is especially low among Latino students, the study says.  

Community colleges carry a large part of the responsibility to make sure students graduate, because almost 80 percent of Latinos who enroll in public universities enter through community colleges.  

The biggest challenge they face is funding, said Darroch "Rocky" Young, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District.  

"We know how to be successful if we have the funding to support them at the level they need to be supported at," Young said.

Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722