The data have become irrefutable. As the United States struggles with the social and economic challenges of the 21st century, the supply of highly educated young adults with the necessary range of training and skills appears to be dwindling. Although the country is experiencing a dramatic increase in the numbers of young people who are reaching their early twenties, more and more of them are recent immigrants, members of minority groups who are inadequately prepared to meet the demands of a dramatically changed workplace.
Research by Public Agenda has shown that large numbers of these youngsters and their parents aspire to an education that would allow them to take their place in the new economy, yet for one reason or another, their educational preparation has given them few of the skills that are required in the 21st century. The gap in educational achievement between minority youngsters and their non-Hispanic white peers cannot help but undermine their social aspirations, the needs of the economy, and, one might even say, the fundamental requirements of a democracy that depends upon an educated citizenry.
It has become common knowledge that, among minority groups, Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing segment of the country's population, and data regularly suggest that Hispanic youngsters evidence the most severe educational disadvantages. College professors and administrators are prone to point to a failure in their academic preparation in K-12 schools as the culprit, and often throw their hands up in despair when called upon to compensate for this. While many educators themselves acknowledge that inadequate preparation may indeed be a significant part of the problem, it is also true that, increasingly, there are calls upon institutions responsible for higher education in America to find ways to ameliorate the situation.
The findings presented here make clear how essential it will be for higher education to address the needs of Hispanic students-and other minorities-as they struggle to find their way into the secure life we all aspire to in the United States. This pilot project (along with several other recent studies) has begun the process of diagnosing the sources of the problem. We are a long way from developing effective responses to these challenging issues, but surely, one implication of the work so far is that a more probing and inclusive study might well be helpful in crafting appropriate solutions.
In this study, members of our advisory group have called for "new research and new creative thinking." Public Agenda hopes very much to continue to contribute to that process.