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Latino Students Lag Behind In Financial Aid For College, Report Reveals

Although the percentage of Latino students receiving financial aid for college is at an all-time high, Latinos receive the lowest average federal aid awards of any racial or ethnic group, according to a new report released by Excelencia in Education and the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

According to the report, “How Latino Students Pay for College,” Latino students received an average financial aid award of $6,250 in 2003-2004. Asian students received the highest average award of $7,260 and the national average award was $6,890. The study, the first of its kind to disaggregate participation rates for Latino students in financial aid programs, found that while Latino participation has increased in the last decade, the disparity in average amounts received has remained unchanged since 1995-1996.

“Financial aid is critical for all students, but more so for the Latino community, given the percentage of which come from modest financial backgrounds,” says Sarita E. Brown, president of Excelencia. “This report dispels the myth that Hispanic students are getting a free ride.”
“We know that Latino students are not entering and completing college at rates similar to other groups,” says Jamie P. Merisotis, president of IHEP. “Addressing economic disparities is one of the biggest steps we can take to improve success rates for the Hispanic community.”

Latino students rely heavily on federal aid and on grants in particular, according to the report, given that they are more likely to be first-generation college students (49 percent) and to have relatively low family incomes. Nearly 80 percent of Latino undergraduates applied for aid, about 63 percent of whom received some form of aid in 2003-2004. And while Latinos were more likely to receive federal aid (50 percent) than all groups except African-Americans (62 percent), Latinos received the lowest average federal awards. Only 16 percent of Latinos received state aid, and 17 percent received aid from postsecondary institutions.

At the same time, the report cites the need for further research into factors that may influence the findings, including the relationship between the amount of aid awarded to Latino students and their enrollment patterns. For example, Latino students were more likely to enroll on a part-time basis than any other group (51 percent). Almost half of Latino undergraduates were enrolled at public two-year institutions in 2003-2004, according to the report. Only one-quarter of Latino students attended four-year campuses during that period. In addition, 40 percent of Latino students enrolled at institutions with tuition and fees of less than $1,000, and 36 percent were enrolled at campuses with costs between $1,000 and $5,000.

“The results of this study can help lay the groundwork for improving access for this rapidly growing student population,” says Dr. Henry L. Fernandez, executive director of scholarships at USA Funds, sponsor of the study.

Ideas For Improving Outcomes
While the Latino community in the United States is currently enjoying explosive population growth — by the year 2050 Hispanics are expected to make up nearly one-quarter of the nation’s population — Hispanic success in higher education has lagged far behind. The report outlines a series of recommendations to improve Latino success, including a call for outreach campaigns at the federal, state and local levels to target information on financial aid options to Latino students and families. In addition, the report calls for the following recommendations by sector:

– Federal Government: Increase maximum awards for Pell grants to better align with increased college costs, and create an entitlement-based loan forgiveness program for students who study in areas of national need.

– States: Establish a predictable tuition and fee policy.
l Institutions: Disaggregate institutional data to identify Latino progress, ensure course availability and strengthen course planning.

– K-12 Community: Encourage mentoring by experienced parents and students, and offer courses on paying for college.

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