Does Generation Status Matter? An Examination of Latino


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DOES GENERATION STATUS MATTER? AN EXAMINATION OF LATINO COLLEGE COMPLETERS
Cecilia Maldonado Assistant Professor Dept. of Educational Leadership University of Nevada-Las Vegas [email protected] (702) 895-3410 voice (702) 895-3492 fax
A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association Career and Technical Education Special Interest Group
San Francisco, CA April 7-11, 2006

DOES GENERATION STATUS MATTER? AN EXAMINATION OF LATINO COLLEGE COMPLETERS
Abstract Attendance and graduation rates of Latinos in institutions of higher education in the United States are improving. Educational attainment is critical to upward mobility in the labor market (Kao & Thompson, 2003; Erlach, 2000; Morales, 2000). College completion rates and earning a degree are significant predictors of earning potential and occupational choice (Morales, 2000). The Latino population is growing faster than any other group and has the highest (35.5%) proportion of people younger than age 18 (NCLR, 2001; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000; Schmidt, 2003). This paper reports the results of a descriptive and inferential study, which examined Latino college completers and the differences in completion rates of Latino subgroups when they were classified by their generation status. Specifically, this study focused on the completion of degrees at the associate level and below, research that is lacking in the literature. Findings show: (a) Hispanic achievement and generation status are independent of each other, (b) Hispanics, in general, do not complete postsecondary credentials in large numbers, (c) of those that do finish, some complete programs that lead to diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees (see Table 8), but do not complete programs considered to lead to high-skill, high wage work, (d) completion of programs that lead to diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees declines with length of time in the U.S., and (e) the various Hispanic subgroups differ in the types of programs they pursue and complete.
Introduction
Attendance and graduation rates of Latinos[1] in institutions of higher education in the
United States are improving. This improvement however, is not commensurate to their growth in
the population. According to Fox, Connolly, and Snyder of the National Center for Education
Statistics (2005), only 9.2% of 25 to 29 year olds who completed a bachelor’s degree in 2004
were Hispanic. By contrast, 14.1% of Black and 28% of White 25 to 29 year olds completed a
bachelor’s degree in the same year. Kao and Thompson (2003) state that “understanding race,
ethnic, and immigrant variation in educational achievement and attainment is more important
than ever as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse” (p. 418).
[1] Note: The term Hispanic and Latino are used interchangeably throughout this paper.

Educational attainment is critical to upward mobility in the labor market (Kao & Thompson, 2003; Erlach, 2000; Morales, 2000). College enrollment and earning a degree are significant predictors of earning potential and occupational choice (Morales, 2000). Nearly 60% of jobs today require college-level skills. These jobs are the fastest growing, and they replace those that previously required only high school diplomas [or less] (Carnevale, 1999). The Latino population is growing faster than any other group and has the highest (35.5%) proportion of people younger than age 18 (NCLR, 2001; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000; Schmidt, 2003). Arbona (1995) states “the career development of Hispanics has become a salient issue in the social sciences literature because it is believed that the quality of the future U.S. Labor market will depend, to a great extent, on this group’s education and job skills” (p. 38).
This paper reports the results of a descriptive and inferential study, which examined Latino college completers and the differences in completion rates of Latino subgroups when they were classified by their generation status. Specifically, this study focused on the completion of degrees at the associate level and below; research that is lacking in the literature. This research is important because the largest projections of job openings will be in those technical fields in which credentials are awarded at the postsecondary associate degree level and below (Savrock citing Gray, 2006). Additionally, Gray points to the fact that:
nearly half of recent four-year college graduates—47 percent—are overeducated for the jobs they hold. For those four-year college graduates who hold arts and science degrees, the number is an astounding 67 percent. Students are earning the wrong type of degree for the job market—there are more people with baccalaureate degrees than the market can absorb. At the same time, not nearly enough people possess the specialized technical skills that are needed to fill today’s workforce demands (Savrock citing Gray, 2006). The study used data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS): 88/00 fourth follow-up data file; and a career development framework developed by Arbona (1995)

was used to classify this sample population by generation status. The following research questions were addressed in this study:
1. What percentage of Latino student subgroups identified as first, second, and third generation completed a high school diploma and a postsecondary credential?
2. What was the postsecondary completion rate of Latino student subgroups identified as first, second, and third generation, who were enrolled in programs that lead to a diploma, certificate, or associate degree? Which programs did they complete?
3. What is the difference in postsecondary completion rates for Latino students identified as first, second, and third generation?
Latino Educational Attainment Educational attainment, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), indicates that the
Hispanic population age 25 and over is less educated than their non-Hispanic counterparts. Twenty-seven percent have less than a ninth grade education compared to non-Hispanic whites (4.2%); 15.7% have not completed high school versus 7.3% of non-Hispanic whites; 27.9% have diplomas compared to 34.1%; and only 29.1% have more than a high school education compared to 54.4% of non-Hispanic whites.
Understanding factors that determine educational achievement is important in helping this diverse group of people whose success in the labor market will, in the near future, be a significant factor in the success of this nation. In his article, Hispanics and Higher Education: Multicultural Myopia, Erlach (2000) emphasizes the complex nature of determining factors that affect educational achievement of Latinos. This is supported by research conducted by Fligstein & Fernandez (1985) who state:
the amount of education an individual receives is a product of a complex process in which one’s background, intelligence, academic performance, and school setting,

combined with social-psychological factors such as peer, parental, and teacher encouragement and personal goals in occupation and education, are transformed into educational attainment. (p. 162) Other research (Garcia & Bayer, 2005; Kao & Thompson, 2003; Padilla & Gonzalez, 2001; White & Glick, 2000; Wojtkiewicz & Donato, 1995) supports the complex nature in determining why some students are more successful than others. Of the factors that influence educational attainment, family background is one of the most influential (Fligstein & Fernandez, 1985; Harrell & Forney, 2003; Kao & Thompson, 2003; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2001; Wojtkiewicz & Donato, 1995). Some of these familyrelated factors include socioeconomic status, occupation, nativity, number of siblings in the home, level of education, and language spoken in the home. Parent’s socioeconomic status and educational levels are probably the best predictors of academic outcomes for their children (Kao & Thompson, 2003; Harrell & Forney, 2003). Wojtkiewicz and Donato (1995) found that family structure and parental education were more important in explaining differences in educational attainment than generation status. Families with higher socioeconomic status and educational levels are more apt to help their children make the right choices in high school as well as navigate the postsecondary educational system (Fligstein & Fernandez, 1985; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2001; Wojtkiewicz & Donato, 1995). Essentially, “parents with more education provide a home environment that supports and encourages the education of children, and they have more income available to finance education and related activities” (Wojtkiewicz & Donato, 1995, p. 560). Unfortunately, Hispanic families have fewer background characteristics that lead to higher educational attainment (Wojtkiewicz & Donato, 1995). In general, Latinos face more challenges to success in college than other groups. Brown, Santiago and Lopez (2003) describe most Latino students as, “first-generation college students

who are low-income, with less academic high school education than their peers, and enroll in community colleges” (p. 41). They add that “a large number of Latinos in higher education are also nontraditional students. They are older, work, attend college part-time, and often are also caring for family – all characteristics that influence the decisions Latino students make in participating in and completing higher education” (p. 42).
Although community colleges serve as the entry point for Latinos in their pursuit of postsecondary education, students who enroll in community colleges often attend on a part-time basis, prolong their college education into their mid-20s and beyond; often they have gaps in their attendance (Fry, 2002). These characteristics, as well as those described above, are all risk factors which contribute to non-completion of a postsecondary education. Attachment to family, community and economic need appear to be associated with high enrollments of Latinos in twoyear institutions as well. The Community College Research Center (CCRC) (2004) which looked at demographic characteristics of students in occupational programs using the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) 1996 and 2000 survey data indicated some of these trends: (a) There was a large increase in the proportion of computer and data processing majors among occupational community college students, (b) There was an increase in community college students with previously earned degrees, and, (c) There was a shift in the primary reason for enrolling among community college students. Interestingly, while many tout the benefits of the bachelors degree, the research reported by CCRC (2004) states that the number of people who are enrolled as occupational students held another degree (>30%) and “the gain was the highest among those who held a bachelors degree as their highest prior degree (increased from 2% to 9%)” (p. 5). In addition, “earning a degree or certificate is now the most commonly cited primary reason for enrolling among both occupational and academic students at two-year and

less than two-year institutions, perhaps due to the expectations of employers in a competitive job market” (p.5). Studies on Latinos and their participation in these types of programs are almost non-existent. Generation Status
Generation status or length of time in the U. S. has been linked to low educational attainment (Garcia & Bayer, 2005; White & Glick, 2000; Wojtkiewicz & Donato, 1995) Latinos are more likely to have of immigrated to the United States than any other underrepresented group. Wojtkiewicz and Donato (1995) state that “…nativity is a characteristic that distinguishes Hispanics from other disadvantaged groups, such as blacks and Native Americans” (p. 561). They examined the degree to which family background and foreign birth explained the differences in academic achievement of Mexican and Puerto Rican students when compared to non-Hispanic students. The results of their study indicate that “the effects across Hispanic groups vary; U.S.-born Mexicans have higher educational attainment than foreign born Mexicans; U.S. born Puerto Ricans are no better off than foreign born Puerto Ricans” (p. 559); consequently “foreign birth is a partial explanation of group differences” (p. 559). On the other hand, Kao and Tienda (1995) concluded in their study that “generational status does not influence educational achievement uniformly among race and ethnic group” (p. 11). In general, it seems that for Hispanics, educational performance was not influenced by generation status. However, when considering aspirations for college graduation, there were significant generational differences (Kao & Tienda, 1995). “Relative to U.S.-born Hispanic youth of native parents, first and second generation Hispanics were more likely to express aspirations to graduate from college” (p. 12).
Kao and Thompson (1995) also found that immigrants of Mexican decent have lower educational attainment than U.S. born Mexicans. Zsembik and Llanes (1996) found that college

completion rates for Mexican Americans peaks in the second generation, and declines in the third. Research reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that U.S. born children of immigrants had higher levels of educational attainment than comparable children of U.S. born parents (Schmidt, 2003).
The research is conflicting. The probable reason for these conflicts results from lumping Latinos of various national origins into a single category (Garcia & Bayer, 2005; Zsembik & Llanes, 1996), which suggests that more research that differentiates between Latino subgroups is needed. In fact, Garcia and Bayer state that:
educational research, which employs an aggregate Latino group may yield results which are statistically less significant in predicting outcomes because some subgroups with lower attainment are counterbalanced by some subgroups in the aggregate with average, or even possibly higher than average, educational attainment. (p. 529)
Theoretical Framework The theoretical framework employed in this study was used solely for classification purposes. Respondents were placed into their respective cells based on their parent’s socioeconomic level and place of birth and the respondent’s place of birth. The matrix itself is comprised of three generation levels that represent migration history and three levels of socioeconomic status (low, medium, and high) representing “occupational standing and educational level” (Arbona, 1995, p. 41). Operational definitions for each generation level are as follows: 1. First generation immigrants are people (both parents and child) born in their country; 2. Second generation immigrants represent children born in the U.S. whose parents (one
or both) were born in another country; 3. Third generation consists of both parents and children born in the U.S. (Arbona,
1995, p.42).

Table 1 Framework for Latino career development
Generation Level

1

2

3

Low

I

IV

VII

Medium

II

V

VIII

High

III

VI

IX

Note: Based on generation level and socioeconomic status (Arbona, 1995, p. 42).

Abona (1995) suggests that Latinos can be categorized within the framework based on socioeconomic background and length of time in the United States (see Table 1). Two factors expected to influence how well Latinos function within and between their culture and the dominant culture are the group’s migration history and socioeconomic status. Cell I represents persons who are first generation immigrants (born in their country of origin) of low socioeconomic status (SES) compared to Cell IX, which represents third generation (or later) immigrants with high SES. How this framework relates to theories of career development depends on the individual’s level of acculturation. Higher levels of acculturation better facilitate the process of career development. Arbona (1995) states “that it is expected, then, that Hispanics from second and later generations (Cells iv to IX) will be more acculturated than first generation Hispanics (Cells I to III), and that among first generation Hispanics, those of higher

socioeconomic classes and educational levels (Cells II and III) will be more acculturated than their more disadvantaged counterparts (Cell I)” (p. 43).
Methodology Research Design
The study employed a descriptive and inferential research design. The rationale for using this design was to describe systematically the differences in educational attainment of Latino subgroups when they were classified by their generational status and then to generalize these differences to the population. The National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), 88/00 data was used to answer the questions salient to the issues surrounding the educational attainment of Latinos in greater depth. Population and Sample
The National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 was the first longitudinal study conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Some 25,000 eighth graders and their parents, teachers, and school principals were surveyed in 1988. These same students were resurveyed in 1990, 1992, 1994 as part of the first, second, and third follow-ups of NELS:88.
The NELS Fourth Follow-up in 2000 included a total of 12,144 (unweighted) respondents who were also members of all of the base year, first, second, and third studies. It provides insight into a new set of educational and social issues about the NELS: 88 respondents who were at the time of the interview, 26 years old and 8 years out of high school. “The focus was on postsecondary education and employment, and especially the transitions experienced by young adults as they moved from educational systems (secondary and postsecondary) into the labor market” (NCES, 2002, p. 7). Details regarding sampling strategies and returns received are available in each of the follow-up manuals. The fourth follow-up surveyed the same sample of

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Does Generation Status Matter? An Examination of Latino