June 12, 2003

Hispanic Youth Dropping Out of U.S. Schools

Measuring the Challenge

High school dropout rates are a key performance measure for the American education system. This report shows that the standard method for calculating the dropout rate leads to a distorted picture of the status of Hispanic students in U.S. schools.

In recent years an influx of young immigrants, who left school before coming to the United States, has swollen the ranks of those counted as Hispanic dropouts. Those youth present long-term policy challenges in language and employment training, but their level of school completion does not reflect the quality of U.S. schools or of Latino achievement in those schools. Rather their presence reflects immigration and labor force trends.

Focusing on data for Hispanics who have dropped out of U.S. schools before completing high school reveals a problem that is quite grave and that has serious long-term implications for the education system, Latino communities and the nation as a whole. However, the numbers in the report show that the problem is not as bad as is commonly thought. Counting only Latinos who dropped out after engaging the American education system yields a rate of about 15 percent among 16- to 19-year-olds. That is good news. The bad news is that this dropout rate is twice as high as the dropout rate for comparable non-Hispanic whites. Further on the positive side, this report finds that the dropout rate for Latinos in U.S. schools is improving as it has been for non-Latinos.