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November 03, 2017

Raquel Navarro is a second-year student at Roxbury Community College. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

The percentage of college students in this country who graduate within six years is abysmally low compared to other advanced countries. It hovers around 45 percent.

For Latinos, that figure is less than half of that. Latinos lag far behind blacks and whites in college completion rates, a new study from Georgetown University shows.

As a result, Latinos often find themselves stuck in middle-wage jobs.

At Roxbury Community College, between classes, Raquel Navarro is practicing her original music. She sings, playing the piano.

It took me time to realize I have other things to pursue

Got a life, got a job, got school to worry

Navarro hopes to be a performing artist someday, so the 19-year-old whose family is from Puerto Rico says she didn't want to go to college immediately.

"I thought to myself, 'damn, school is so strenuous,' and, 'damn, I'm tired and I'm just so fed up with having to complete assignments and listen to a professor lecturing for like two hours," Navarro recalled.

Navarro changed her tune after her guidance counselors and family urged her to go.

"The decision to go to college is mine, but my older sister, she's an inspiration to me because she's going on to get her bachelor's degree,” Navarro said. “I want to get my bachelor's degree."

If she's successful, Navarro will beat the odds.

Only 21 percent of adult Latinos in the U.S. have bachelor's degrees, compared to 32 percent of blacks and 45 percent of whites. That's according Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.

"Hispanics have hit a wall,” said lead researcher Tony Carnevale.

Carnevale says higher education is proving a barrier for many reasons.

"Cost. Preparation in high school. But the principle reason is the lack of support services," he said.

Another problem, Carnevale says, is where Latinos tend to go to college.

"To the extent they've moved into higher education, they're stuck at overcrowded and underfunded two-year and four-year colleges, and the consequences of that are low success rates and lower return on their college degrees when they enter the labor market."

Carnevale's research finds there are more than 150,000 Latino youth in the U.S. who are qualified to graduate even from selective colleges. Even when Latinos do graduate, they're less likely to work in jobs requiring a college degree.

On Campus Radio: Georgetown's Tony Carnevale On Latinos College Completion Rates

In Boston, nonprofit organizations like Sociedad Latina and Success Boston are helping middle- and high school Latino students new to the U.S. succeed in college.

"About 40 percent of our high school seniors have been with us since sixth grade, so we believe in long-term engagement to have positive outcomes," explained Lydia Emmons, director of college and career pathways at Sociedad Latina in the city's Mission Hill neighborhood.

Emmons notes that many of her students who speak English as a second language get discouraged and then bogged down.

"Their ability to enter directly into college-level courses, especially at a community college, is just less, and so they're really entering into remedial level courses” she said. “That's very disheartening for students who really have this identity around educational attainment."

Since freshman year of high school, Navarro has been working with college mentors at Sociedad Latina.

"They helped me out with a lot of my school work, with my networking skills,” she said. “They actually have people who check in with you to see how you're doing and what you're doing."

This spring, Navarro plans to graduate from Roxbury Community College and then hopes to transfer to Berklee College of Music in the fall.

Whether or not her dream of becoming a performing artist pans out, Navarro believes her education will prepare her for any job.

WGBH's Esteban Bustillos contributed to this story.

increasing access and success, Latinos, higher ed, Georgetown University

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