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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

Regional districts see dramatic increase in Latino graduation rates

In her story “Driving a decade of progress, Hispanic students made huge gains in high school graduation,” Chalkbeat CO reporter Yesenia Robles recently highlighted the dramatic rise in Latino graduation rates across Colorado from 2010 to 2020.

In that 10-year span, the statewide high school graduation rate for Latino students, who now make up more than a third of Colorado’s K-12 students, rose from 55.5% to 75.4%.

Similar gains are seen when looking at the Latino graduation rates between 2010 and 2020 for districts in the central-mountain region we cover:

  • Garfield RE-2 increased 41.4%, from 47.7% to 89.1%

  • Garfield 16 increased 30.3%, from 60.9% to 91.2%

  • Lake County R-1 increased 29%, from 63.3% to 92.3%

  • Summit RE-1 increased 28.5%, from 54.2% to 82.7%

  • Roaring Fork RE-1 increased 19%, from 59% to 78%

  • Eagle County RE-50 increased 9.8%, from 65.8% to 75.8%

  • Aspen School District No. 1, meanwhile, dropped 6.2%, from 100% to 93.8%

Several policy, social and economic issues were identified as contributing to the improved graduation rate among Latinos, including:

  • state policy enacted in 2009 that began rating high schools, in part, on their graduation rates;

  • Colorado’s pregnancy rate for Latina girls aged 15-19 dropped from 66.8 per 100,000 in 2010 to 24.4 per 100,000 in 2020, helping more girls to stay in school;

  • the federal DACA program implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012 reduced the threat of deportation for many students and helped them to stay in school;

  • and Colorado passed in-state tuition for undocumented students a year later, via ASSET, making college a more affordable and realistic educational option for students with high school diplomas.

Despite the progress, there is still more to do.

While the statewide Latino graduation rate increased from 55.5% in 2010 to 75.4% in 2020, that still trailed those of other demographics, as the statewide district average for all students in 2020 was 81.9% — a 9.5% increase from 2010.

We also know there are more issues to tackle when you look under the hood and disaggregate the data.

For example, students who are English-language learners graduate at much lower rates and are also more likely to drop out of high school compared to their white student counterparts. And achievement levels by subject area are lower for Latinos than their white counterparts across districts.

Graduation rates alone cannot be the only measure of success. We should also be asking whether Latino students graduate ready for a career or college.

And, while urban districts have attempted to address achievement gap and equity issues for many years now, many rural communities that have seen more recent growth among their Latino populations are just starting on that work.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t applaud the work to increase Latino graduation rates, but let’s all remember that we still have a long way to go.

Alex Sánchez is President and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund.



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