Texas is now home to the nation’s second-largest Hispanic state population with 9.7 million, or 38 percent of the total. In 2011, for the first time since Texas was admitted into the Union, Latinos accounted for over half (2.5 million) of the state's 4.9 million children enrolled in public schools.

Our state’s businesses and residents face a major educational challenge that can also be a great opportunity.  If Texas’s economy is to remain competitive and sustainable, we must find ways to ensure vocational and higher education opportunities that prepare our future workforce to respond to business demands.  The business and economic climate in Texas rests largely on the availability of a workforce that is young, growing, and well educated.

As of last year, one in five of U.S. Latinos held an associate degree or higher, compared with 44 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 57 percent of U.S. Asians and 30 percent of African Americans.  Increasing the number of Latinos college graduates will be key to increasing workforce productivity and taxpayer contributions needed to maintain many of our state’s public services and needed infrastructure improvements.

Increasing the number of Latinos college graduates will be key to increasing workforce productivity and taxpayer contributions needed to maintain many of our state’s public services and needed infrastructure improvements.

Nine of the top 25 U.S. institutions awarding degrees to Latinos in recent years are in Texas and only California matches Texas in awarding degrees to such a large number of Latinos. Experts feel it will be impossible for the USA, and especially Texas, to meet its future economic and workforce goals unless education attainment levels for Latinos are improved.

Fortunately, dropout rates among Latinos in Texas are declining, but remain higher than those of all other ethnic groups.  Their dropout rate last year was 39 percent, down from 50 percent in 2003 and double the rate for non-Hispanic whites (15 percent) and trailing non-Hispanic blacks (33 percent). The Texas Education Agency has created a dropout prevention and college-readiness program using the state’s criteria for identifying students who may be at risk of dropping out. However, due to the fact that ethnicity is not among the 13 items listed as criteria for participation, Latino students have not been a focus.

The good news is an increasing number of Latino high school graduates are enrolling in colleges and universities.  The bad news is Texas lawmakers are facing a projected $15 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year spending period; which will surely lead to more funding cuts in public education — K-12, as well as institutions of higher learning.  Current lawmakers and politicians are committed to reduced spending by public funded service providers, while promising no tax increases.  Financial assistance for tuition and scholarships for our best-qualified and needy students will depend on the charitable nature of our state’s private sector and individual citizens.  

With the continued growth rate of Latino students, if they aren’t part of our state’s educated workforce, it is safe to conclude that Texas will surely suffer, economically and socially.

Octavio A. Hinojosa Mier is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium (HSC), a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to Central Texas Latino students who attend colleges and universities across the nation.  He can be reached by eMail at ohinojosa@hispanicscholar.org