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Colleges need to prepare for Hispanics better, report says

With Hispanics graduating from high school in numbers that will keep increasing for years, the head of a higher education group that released a new report on the trend says colleges need to step up efforts to accommodate the nation's largest minority.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education projects that Hispanics will account for 21 percent of the country's public high school graduates in 2008, up from 17 percent in 2002.

The commission found that nearly 5-million Hispanics were enrolled in the country's public elementary and high schools in 1993-94. And by the 2007-08 school year, it projects that Latino public school enrollment will be about 9-million.

"In general, colleges are still not prepared," said David Longanecker, executive director of the interstate commission. Its report, "Knocking at the College Door," is released every five years and is used by local school districts, states and higher education to track enrollment trends.

"We know there is a relationship between race and income and academic preparedness," Longanecker said. "But we don't have the support services in place to enhance the success that we need."

Using data compiled from the nation's leading testmakers, the U.S. census and other sources, the WICHE study projects a significant regional shift in the school-age population to the South and West that follows general population trends.

Although Hispanics enroll in college at almost the same rate as non-Latino students, they often bring special circumstances to school, said Richard Fry, a senior research associate with the Pew Hispanic Trust.

Hispanics are less likely to attend college full-time and are more likely to work so they can provide financial support to dependents, Fry said.

"In order to help these students receive degrees _ particularly bachelor's degrees, but also associate's degrees and vocational credentials _ you have to help them negotiate their work lives, their family lives, as well as their academic lives," Fry said.

He said community colleges, in particular, need to improve tutorial services for Hispanic students placed in remedial academic and vocational training programs.