College Board/National Journal Poll

The Odds vs. Realities of the American Dream

Hispanics are the most ardent believers despite the many challenges they face in overcoming gaps in income and education, a poll shows.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15: Student Milca Calymayor (R), 18-years-old, blocks a a streetaround the Los Angeles Federal Building during a demonstration by immigrant students for an end to deportations and urge relief by governmental agencies for those in deportation proceedings on June 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. In a policy change, the Obama administration said it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jody Brannon
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Jody Brannon
Nov. 15, 2013, midnight

Des­pite fa­cing the greatest bar­ri­ers to reach­ing the middle class, His­pan­ics are the most fer­vent be­liev­ers in the Amer­ic­an Dream, a new Col­lege Board/Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica Poll shows.

Over­all, His­pan­ics scored high­er on ques­tions re­gard­ing bar­ri­ers to col­lege com­ple­tion ex­cept one. Blacks feel dis­crim­in­a­tion on cam­pus more acutely than oth­er groups, the poll found.

Poll res­ults in­dic­ate that His­pan­ics were the most likely to drop out of col­lege be­cause of cost; the most likely to need a job while in school; the most likely to be in col­lege part time; thought they lacked strong aca­dem­ic train­ing to suc­ceed in col­lege; ac­know­ledged not study­ing hard in col­lege; and said they lacked role mod­els. 

Sev­enty per­cent of His­pan­ics set aside luck or forti­tude and ac­cept that a four-year col­lege de­gree is the most sure-fire cre­den­tial for lifelong suc­cess. As a group, they are no­tice­ably more op­tim­ist­ic about the ef­fect of a four-year-de­gree on their live­li­hoods than Asi­ans (61 per­cent), blacks (55 per­cent), and whites (47 per­cent), the Oc­to­ber na­tion­wide poll in­dic­ates.

His­pan­ics and non­whites with or without col­lege de­grees were much more likely than whites to em­brace that power of a de­gree, the poll showed. More than 70 per­cent of His­pan­ics and 60 per­cent of non­whites be­lieve that a col­lege de­gree will have a pos­it­ive im­pact on their ca­reers, com­pared with 44 per­cent of whites with a dip­loma and 49 per­cent of those without.

The path to gradu­ation day is riddled with chal­lenges, however. Ac­cord­ing to 2012 census fig­ures, the me­di­an His­pan­ic house­hold in­come was $39,000 — al­most 43 per­cent less than the me­di­an Asi­an fam­ily and a quarter less than the U.S. me­di­an. Plus, the Great Re­ces­sion hit His­pan­ics and blacks par­tic­u­larly hard. Whites had typ­ic­ally earned twice as much as blacks and His­pan­ics, and ac­cu­mu­lated six times the wealth, ac­cord­ing to Urb­an In­sti­tute re­search sum­mar­iz­ing lifelong data in 2010. White fam­il­ies had an av­er­age wealth of $632,000; His­pan­ic fam­il­ies had ac­cu­mu­lated an av­er­age of $110,000; black fam­il­ies had $98,000.

When an in-state four-year col­lege price tag totals al­most $90,000, ac­cord­ing to Col­lege Board fig­ures for the 2012-13 school year, it’s pretty hard for a His­pan­ic fam­ily to help a kid through gradu­ation, even if the stu­dent over­comes in­creas­ing achieve­ment gaps.

Bey­ond cost, there’s com­ple­tion. His­pan­ics were four times more likely than whites to have fin­ished neither high school nor col­lege, the poll showed. Asi­ans were nearly five times more likely than His­pan­ics to have a post­gradu­ate or pro­fes­sion­al de­gree.

Lack of edu­ca­tion trans­lates in­to lower lifelong wealth. Someone with a bach­el­or’s de­gree will earn 68 per­cent more than a high school dro­pout in the course of a life­time, ac­cord­ing to 2011 census es­tim­ates.

Rel­ev­ant to col­lege costs, His­pan­ics felt the de­creas­ing dol­lars avail­able to sup­port pub­lic-col­lege edu­ca­tions was most un­fair, with 82 per­cent say­ing that all cit­izens have a stake in en­sur­ing that col­lege re­mains af­ford­able for all Amer­ic­ans, ac­cord­ing to the Col­lege Board/NJ poll. Blacks and Asi­ans were roughly split between put­ting the onus on uni­versit­ies to hold down col­lege costs versus ex­pect­ing the gov­ern­ment to of­fer more fin­an­cial as­sist­ance (whites and Asi­ans more pro­por­tion­ally felt schools were re­spons­ible).

About equal share of His­pan­ics (61 per­cent) and blacks (55 per­cent) be­lieve that kids of all ra­cial back­grounds have an equal op­por­tun­ity to suc­ceed. But the poll showed that His­pan­ics and Asi­ans are much more op­tim­ist­ic about wheth­er chil­dren of all back­grounds have an ad­equate chance. Fifty-sev­en per­cent of blacks be­lieve the op­por­tun­ity is ad­equate, com­pared with 75 per­cent and 74 per­cent of Asi­ans and His­pan­ics re­spect­ively.

View­points ma­tured by ex­per­i­ence aren’t al­ways as rosy in the older gen­er­a­tions, but the op­tim­ism of youth per­sists across Amer­ic­an class and ra­cial lines. Ques­tions in a re­cent All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll posed to teens showed that youth are up­beat about the fu­ture. In that poll, Amer­ic­ans of all races and class struc­tures gen­er­ally agreed that chil­dren have good edu­ca­tion and health care and are fairly treated.

But more dir­ectly, among His­pan­ics, the Col­lege Board/NJ poll shows that the chal­lenges of the fu­ture de­ter them little.

Said Fe­lipe Sepul­veda, a Har­vard sopho­more who is the first in his im­mig­rant fam­ily to enter col­lege: “I think it’s im­port­ant for first-gen­er­a­tion stu­dents to set a col­lege-bound trend of suc­ceed­ing so that the second gen­er­a­tion and so on can fol­low this trend. In that sense, I feel like we can play a vi­tal role in the Next Amer­ica, as op­posed to oc­cupy­ing low-pay­ing jobs. I feel that be­ing edu­cated, there is a lot we can con­trib­ute to this great coun­try.”

The Col­lege Board/Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,272 adults ages 18 and older from Oct. 14-24, in Eng­lish and Span­ish, through land­lines and cell phones. It in­cludes over­samples of 245 Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, 229 His­pan­ics, and 107 Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans; the poll has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.9 per­cent­age points for the over­all sample, with lar­ger er­ror mar­gins for the sub­groups. The poll is one com­pon­ent of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Next Amer­ica pro­ject, which ex­am­ines how chan­ging demo­graphy is chan­ging the na­tion­al agenda.

Fourth part in a five-day series. Click here to down­load the topline res­ults from the poll and ac­cess in your down­load folder.

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