Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Feds look at higher education spending across race and ethnicity

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Is there truth to the notion that some ethnic groups value higher education more than others? A new study from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that no, there isn't.

Using data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, researchers reviewed more than 90,000 households’ expenditures for higher education between 2008 and 2010. They confirmed something that's been well-reported: black and Latino families spend less on higher education than do white and Asian families.

Black families spent 70 percent less on college than whites; Latinos, 60 percent less. By contrast, Asians spent 50 percent more and also outpaced the three other groups in college attendance.

But according to the research, these differences don't stem from different ethnic values regarding education. When researchers compared black, white, Latino and Asian families with similar backgrounds, in fact, they found little difference in how much is spent on college.

"When you put everyone on a level playing field, if you will, in terms of education and income, they all all make very similar decisions in terms of the amount they want to invest in higher education," said Richard Holden, regional commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released the study's findings Thursday in San Francisco.

The BLS study looks at overall higher education spending among different ethnic groups, where the big differences are, then narrows it down to black, white, Latino and Asian families that are on the same socioeconomic footing.

Researchers focused on households earning a median income of $70,000 a year, with at least one parent holding a bachelor's degree, and found that the difference in college spending per quarter among all four groups was minimal. On the low end, Latinos spent $5,792; on the high end, Asians spent $7,103.

The spending difference between all four groups was so small as to be statistically insignificant, Holden said.

An article on the BLS website that highlights the study starts off with a citation from author Amy Chua, who has argued a connection to cultural values:

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

―Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Holden said the data shows that families' higher education decisions are based on the parents' income, as well as their educational level and experience and not their culture.