Report: Few Hispanic high school dropouts earn GED

MIAMI — A report released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center found that one in 10 Hispanic students who drop out of high school go on to earn a General Equivalency Development degree.

Educators and students say limited outreach, immigration and pressure to work may be to blame.

Using data from the Census Bureau, researchers found that fewer Hispanic students earn a GED credential than white or black dropouts. Black students earned a GED at a rate of two in 10. For white students, the rate is three in 10.

The nonpartisan research organization says the lower rate among Hispanics is notable because they also have higher dropout rates: 41 percent of Latinos ages 20 or older do not have a regular high school degree, compared to 23 percent of blacks and 14 percent of whites.

Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the center, said some of the Hispanics who did not finish high school are immigrants who may not have had any educational training in the United States. For these students, it takes time to learn and access information about earning a U.S. educational credential.

According to the report, the longer foreign-born Latinos without a high school degree are in the United States, the more likely they are to earn a GED.

But Fry said a puzzle still remains: Hispanics born in the United States who drop out of high school are also unlikely to have a GED. The report found that only 21 percent earn the credential.

"We do not know precisely why," Fry said. "I would speculate that school districts and community service organizations do not as effectively promote and recruit Hispanic dropouts into GED preparation programs as white dropouts."

The report notes that a GED is a crucial step forward: Four in 10 students with a GED pursue additional education, compared to only 1 in 10 of those without an alternative degree. Students with a GED are also able to apply and enroll in degree-granting colleges and universities.

Arayzel Barragan, 24, dropped out of high school about five years ago after her father became ill. In the years after, Barragan, who immigrated with her family from Panama when she was 9, got married and had a child. She enrolled in GED courses at a school in Miami earlier this year.

She said some Latino students are undocumented and fearful to enroll, concerned it will somehow affect their immigration status; others are scared about learning a new language.

"It took me five years to learn," Barragan said between classes on Thursday.

Other students at The English Center, an adult educational center in Miami, where more than 200 students are enrolled in GED classes, said it can be a challenge to find out where and how to take the classes - with most of the information coming word of mouth through friends and family.

"It's a lack of information," said Catherine Pacheco, 18, who immigrated from Nicaragua six months ago and is taking English classes before beginning her GED.

Teachers at the school also said that for some Latino students, helping support their parents and families takes precedence over earning the degree.

"It concerns me when there's an opportunity to get a higher education, and they can't," said Dr. Maritza Barrios, the school's vocational department chair. "And it's very sad when a child comes up to you and they say they have to leave to help their mother pay the rent."

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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