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Report: Hispanic Education Disparities Threaten San Diego Economy

A graph showing San Diego graduation statistics by race.

Credit: San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation

Above: A graph showing San Diego graduation statistics by race.

Hispanic Education Disparities Threaten San Diego Economy: EDC


Sera Hernandez, professor, San Diego State University

Carlos Cortez, president, San Diego Continuing Education


When San Diego’s fastest growing population is underserved in the area of higher education, the county has a big problem on its hands. That’s the assessment of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, which identified three economic threats that could contribute to economic inequality.

Latinos are the fastest growing racial demographic in San Diego and will make up 40 percent of the region’s population by 2030, more than any other group. But 34 percent of Latinos do not finish high school, compared to 12 percent of whites; only 15 percent graduate college, compared to 49 percent of whites.

“The fastest growing population is statistically the least prepared for high-skilled, high-wage jobs,” the EDC wrote in its report.

RELATED: San Diego Businesses Point To Looming Economic ‘Pain Points’

The problem is far from specific to San Diego. A study last year from The Education Trust-West found most Latino students in California aren’t proficient in math or English language arts and attend some of the most segregated schools in the country.

San Diego and other school districts in the state are seeing progress in recent years as they implement dual language programs, said Sera Hernandez, a professor at San Diego State University’s Dual Language and English Learner Education department.

“If we have programs that value the home language, we’re already winning,” she said. “It makes me think back to when I was an elementary school teacher in the late '90s. That was far from what we were being told. It was all about, ‘You need to be speaking English in the home.’ Families should be encouraged to use the language they know best.”

RELATED: San Diego Small Business Wages Lag Behind

But even as Latino graduations rates are improving around the country to record highs, that doesn’t address those who were in school decades ago but never finished or pursued college.

Carlos Cortez is the president of San Diego Continuing Education, the adult education arm of the San Diego Community College District.

“The largest opt-out population is Latinos who were dumped into ESL and never moved out of those programs, never given the chance to prove themselves,” he said.

Cortez suggested that as the business community considers how it can help narrow the education gap, it should focus on student internships that pay full-time wages.

“The average income of someone in our high school education program is less than $5,000 per year,” Cortez said. “The immediate solution is dollars. They don’t have money to stop what they’re doing, to put their lives on hold, to complete degree programs. The majority of immigrant populations are living without financial security.”

As part of our weeklong coverage of the threats to San Diego's economy, Hernandez and Cortez join KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss other ways businesses can improve Latino graduation rates.


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