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Foreign-born youths suffer high drop-out rates

When students arrived more crucial than origin

Foreign-born youths, particularly those who arrived recently in the United States, contribute significantly to the nation's high school drop-out rates, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization located in Washington, D.C.

Only 8 percent of the nation's teenagers are foreign-born, but nearly 25 percent of teen dropouts were born outside the United States, the report said.

The report released recently by the center was one of three that examine high school and college education trends of Hispanic and foreign-born students.

"When you come is important," said Richard Fry, Pew senior research associate and author of the reports. "Of those who have arrived recently, it really matters how they were doing in school . . . in their country of origin."

The report used census data, and looked at 15- to 17-year-olds, and whether they were enrolled or had finished high school, Fry said. If someone in that age group had never made it to high school, they'd still be counted.

It found that 70 percent of recently arrived foreign-born teens who had trouble before migration dropped out, Fry said, compared to 8 percent of all foreign-born youths.

"This isn't just true of Mexicans," he said. "It's true of youth born in China, Japan, Korea, it's true for any country I looked at."

Foreign-born teens who received much or all of their schooling in the U.S. are much more likely to be in school. Their dropout rate was 5 percent, slightly higher than the U.S.-born dropout rate of 3 percent.

Information on Utah's foreign-born drop out rates weren't immediately available from the State Office of Education.

Governor's Education Deputy Christine Kearl said information on foreign-born students has been difficult to track, but a new unique student identifier system to start next year should provide better information.

"We need to make sure we're looking at not just immigrant kids, but all children, to see that a high percentage of them are graduating," Kearl said. "It's something that needs to be addressed."

Kearl said that for existing drop out numbers, education officials don't expect to see much of a change.

Michael Clara, former chairman of the Coalition of Minorities Advisory Committee to the State Board of Education, said that in Utah the drop out numbers don't take into account those who drop out before they enter high school, a problem he says is rampant in Salt Lake's rapidly growing Hispanic community.

Clara believes the Hispanic drop-out rate, for those both foreign- and native-born, to be more than 50 percent, and he hopes the new student identifier will provide real insight into dropouts.

"It's important to see the numbers, then we'll know where we need to improve," he said. "For some reason, the institution wants to mask and hide those numbers. We want to look at how high it is, so we can say 'let's get to work on it.' "

Some findings from two other new Pew reports, available online at www.pewhispanic.org, include:

Nearly one in four Hispanics attend one of 300 high schools nationwide with an enrollment of 1,838 students or more, and in which 45 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. That compares to 8 percent of black students and 1 percent of white students.

More than 85 percent of the nation's Hispanic students are educated at one of 4,432 high schools (one quarter of the nation's high schools) that are disproportionately Hispanic.

Nationally, Hispanics are more likely to be in classrooms with high student-to-teacher ratios. Nearly 37 percent of Hispanics are educated in public schools with more than 22 students per teacher. The national average student-to-teacher ratio is 16-to-1.

In Utah, where the average student-to-teacher ratio is 22-to-1, nearly 79 percent of white students were in classrooms with more than 22 students per teacher, compared to 65 percent of Hispanics, 68 percent of Asians and 58 percent of blacks.

In Utah, the number of Hispanics who enroll in four-year institutions of higher learning is increasing, with full-time first year enrollment up about 26 percent — from 352 in 1997 to 571 in 2001. First-year enrollment was also up by 56 percent at two-year institutions, from 154 to 240. During that time, Hispanics' share of the total student population rose only slightly, up from 2 percent to 4 percent of four-year institutions, and up from 3 to 5 percent of two-year schools.


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com