Tides regarding Latino students going to college may be changing.
Latino students are now the second largest ethnic group enrolled in higher education, but recent U.S. Census data reveals among adults 25 and over they are less likely than other racial and ethnic groups to earn an associate degree or higher.
In 2011, only 21 percent of Latino adults 25 and over had earned an associate degree or higher, compared to 40 percent of all adults.
So the question has to be asked, what keeps Latino students out of higher education? It’s not lack of interest!
Latino students and higher education: Barriers persist
“The first thing that comes to mind is affordability and the second is opportunity,” Excelencia in Education Co-Founder and Vice President for Policy and Research Deborah Santiago told VOXXI. “The cost of higher education can be a challenge for some Latinos. For example, the sticker price at an institution could cost more than a family could make in a year.”
In most families, this leads to the difficult discussion about paying for college, which may have to be completed part-time thus decreasing the likelihood of completion.
Another hurdle associated with Latino students attaining a higher education is the majority of college-going Hispanics are often the first in their family to do so. The potential college student is alone on the convoluted path to higher education, meandering often blindly through ACT/SAT test scheduling, federal student aid and college requirements.
“Survey after survey have shown that Latinos value higher education, in some ways more than other groups,” Santiago said. “There is an aspiration for college that is high, and I do I think the actualization tends to be lower. By that I mean the number of hoops of what they need to do to go to college can be an impediment. All of those are operational components of college knowledge, understanding the system and getting through. It kind of makes sense that that’s a challenge, even though we know 40 percent of students who go are the first in their family.”
In some situations, the family’s gravitational pull may keep prospective Latino students from going to school out of state. Santiago said Latinos are more likely to live at home while they are enrolled.
“The American Community Survey has shown that Latino students are actually enrolling at a slightly higher rate than are white colleagues, and I think in part it’s the access to affordable institutions near where they live. Community colleges have seen a growth in enrollment,” Santiago said. “Family can play a critical role potentially for impeding, but we’ve seen institutions that now have orientations not only for students but for families so they get educated on expectations on going to college.”
Other components keeping Latino students from achieving a higher education include larger issues. For example, being undocumented. Many Latino students worry they will attract too much attention towards their legal status by registering in a higher education facility, and the financial limitations become even harder, because although there are a few, most scholarships are not available to undocumented immigrants and they cannot apply for financial aid.
There is also a sense that despite best intentions, academic preparation for students is lagging in many underserved school districts that cater to large minority populations.
In spite of the trends, Santiago said she does see positive signs regarding academic preparation in term of higher education through community organizations and institutions informing students.
“I do think the numbers of Hispanics enrolling in college will increase,” Santiago said. “It has increased. The caution I would have is that we can always do better, and we lose students along the way who have done everything right and enroll. The issue raised is retention to completion. So at some point, maybe different parts along the educational pipeline, the conversation will continue, but I think if we are really doing our job right. this should be a conversation that’s no longer had.”