August 24, 2015
By Alberto Davila
The value of educational attainment to individuals and societies is unquestionable. The social science literature provides ample evidence of the positive effects of education on the earnings of workers. But the positive effects of education go beyond enhanced earnings: Education has been linked to stronger civic engagement, an increase in the propensity to vote, and other social matters required for a dynamic, democratic and growing economy.
Yet, across the world, the United States ranks 14th according to Pearson's Global Education Index in 2014, an index that measures cognitive skills and educational attainment. And while this ranking is an improvement from 2012, the OECD reported in 2013 that teenagers in this country ranked 31st in mathematics and 24th in science, worse than the 2009 ranking. The mathematics and science rankings are particularly problematic because they represent important educational dimensions that will be in growing demand by current and future labor markets, as the returns to these skills grow in an ever expanding technological era. To put this issue in perspective, according to some estimates, the United States needs to produce roughly 1 million STEM professionals over the next 10 years (which would represent a 35 percent increase per year), professionals that presumably are proficient in science and mathematics, to maintain its competitive position in the global economy.
To add to the educational challenge facing the United States is the disparity in educational attainment between Hispanics and others in the country, coupled with the stylized fact that Hispanics are expected to represent some 30 percent of this country's population by 2050. According to an article in an upcoming issue of the Monthly Labor Review, Marie T. Mora (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) estimates that Hispanics have less education than non-Hispanics by the tune of 11.0 years versus 13.7 years among adults ages 25 years and older. She notes that the disparity has remained over time even though Hispanics have been acquiring more schooling in recent years. With regards to the growing share of the Hispanic population and the demand for STEM professionals, Gloria Crisp and Amaury Nora (both at the University of Texas at San Antonio) report in a 2012 white paper that data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Completion Survey for the 1999-2000 academic year show the most popular degrees for Hispanics were in social sciences, business, psychology and education, and that a lower share were in the STEM-related sciences, computer and information sciences, and engineering degrees. They note that these trends can be observed at the graduate level for this group as well.
The good news is that reports indicate that Hispanics value education and that more resources are being devoted to attract this population to the science (including social sciences fields such as economics), mathematics and engineering fields. Still, other socioeconomic issues must be addressed -- consider that while a 2009 Pew Hispanic report found the Hispanics value a college education more than other groups, Hispanics are less likely to say they plan to get a college degree; Hispanics who did not plan to continue their education cited a need to support their family as the primary reason.
In the economics field, already, the American Economic Association (AEA) has in place programs to recruit and train Hispanic economists, to help alleviate some of these foregoing issues. One such program is the AEA summer minority program (hosted at the University of New Mexico this year and will be hosted at Michigan State University in the summer of 2016), where undergraduate Hispanic and other minority students participate in extensive quantitative and theoretical workshops to equip them with the skills needed to succeed in Ph.D. programs. Once in a Ph.D. program, Hispanic and other minority students are invited to participate in the AEA mentoring program (held in conjunction with the summer minority program) where economics professors from all over the country mentor these students. Finally, the American Society for Hispanic Economists (ASHE) serves as a forum to disseminate research and issues pertaining to the economics of Hispanic populations. For example, this coming year, at the American Economic Association meetings in January, ASHE will present a session on Health and Hispanic Economic Outcomes.
To be sure, the programs that aim to increase Hispanic enrollments in fields, such as those in economics and other STEM fields, need to look to continually improve their effectiveness in the recruitment of economically disadvantaged Hispanic students. Our global competitiveness in the future might well depend on these efforts.
Source: Latin Post