UCLA Study Reveals Growing Gender Gap Among Hispanic College Students - Higher Education
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UCLA Study Reveals Growing Gender Gap Among Hispanic College Students

by Karen Branch-Brioso

UCLA Study Reveals Growing Gender Gap Among Hispanic College Students

Hispanic women are enrolling at higher rates than ever as full-time freshmen at four-year colleges and universities. They’re more likely to aspire to doctoral degrees. Their self-rated drive to achieve is higher than any other group.

Those are some of the findings in a report on Hispanic college freshmen released Thursday by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. The study — gleaned from three decades of freshman survey responses — provided more detail in the widening gender gap between Hispanic male and female college students.|

While women are outperforming men across all ethnic and racial groups, the gap between male and female Hispanics is the most pronounced. Last week, the American Council on Education reported that in high school completion rates, there is a 10-point gap between Hispanic males (63 percent) and females (73 percent). That same 10-point difference exists when it comes to college enrollment rates. While 31 percent of college-age Hispanic women are enrolled in college; just 21 percent of college-age Hispanic men are.

Despite the gap, Hispanics’ numbers in higher education are improving, says Dr. Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute and a co-author of UCLA’s “Advancing in Higher Education: A Portrait of Latino College Freshmen at Four-Year Institutions, 1975-2006.”

“Both groups are growing in higher education. That means women are growing at a faster rate,” says Hurtado, who, as a college freshman more than 30 years ago, responded to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program freshman survey that is the basis for her report today. “I answered these in 1976, and when I went to college, there were more males than females.”

In the year Hurtado was a freshman, Hispanics made up 1.2 percent of college and university freshmen. Today, they are 8.2 percent of college freshmen. (If two-year colleges are included, that number increases to 11 percent.)

In 2006, the most recent survey results, Hispanic females were 60.8 percent of first-time, full-time Hispanic freshmen in four-year colleges and universities. Hispanic males are just 39.2 percent. In 1975, males accounted for 57.4 percent of Hispanic freshmen; women were 42.6 percent of that group.

Hispanic females are also aspiring to doctorate degrees at a greater rate than Hispanic males. In 2006, 39.6 percent of Hispanic females aspired as freshmen to attain a medical degree, a Ph.D. or a law degree, compared to 34.1 percent of Hispanic males.

Hispanic females surpassed all groups — across gender, race or ethnicity — in their self-rated drive to achieve, the study said: 77.4 percent said they were “above average” or “highest 10 percent” compared to their peers.

“For a while, Latinos kept their daughters close by and going away to college was a big thing,” Hurtado says. “Now, there are so many more Latinas in the population and the local institutions are actually where they’re going. I think that has been a great advantage to the women. They can still be close to home and get a degree …We’re seeing kind of a multiplier. Women are being more educated and they’re being encouraged to go.”

Part of that, too, can be attributed to the larger number of mothers of Hispanic freshmen that have college degrees of their own. The study shows that the mothers of 24.5 percent of Mexican American freshmen had a college degree, compared to 14.5 percent in 1975. For the mothers of Puerto Rican freshmen, 40.5 percent had a college degree, compared to 12.8 percent in 1975. And 40.1 percent of the mothers of other Hispanic freshmen also had a college degree.

The UCLA study sheds more light on performance among individual Hispanic subgroups: specifically Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.

The gender gap was most pronounced among Mexican-American males, who were 37.1 percent of the Mexican-American freshmen, compared to 62.9 percent for females.

The report has some suggestions as to the gender gap: Young Hispanic males are far more likely to have full-time jobs than Hispanic females. Some are in prisons. Some are in the military.

But a co-author of the UCLA report says that gap hasn’t been studied enough.

“There is little research that explains why these gender gaps are growing among Latino students and even less about what this gap could portend in light of the fast-growing nature of this population,” stated Dr. Victor B. Sáenz, an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, in a news release. “Bottom line, these results help identify a problem that represents an area in dire need of more research.”

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