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Hispanic Women Pursue Higher Education Despite the Odds, Says Study

Researchers studying “Why Hispanic Undergraduate Women Persist in Higher Education” in spite of intense cultural pressure have concluded that their major reason for going to school was to create a better life for themselves and their families.

The final report by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Alabama at Birmingham will be published shortly. 

Dr. Brent Cejda, associate professor and Dr. Sheldon Stick, professor, both in educational administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Dr. Nataliya Ivankova, associate professor in human studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, studied 63 Hispanic college students, both female and male and all U.S. citizens, at Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Poverty, early motherhood and family bonds were some of the key themes that worked against Hispanic women getting and education. Fiercely independent and proud, the women referred to themselves as Hispanic, not Mexican American or American Mexican, the researchers noted.

“The culture in the lower Rio Grande Valley was for women to have a family and take care of it,” Stick told the journal Women in Higher Education. Many of the women had children while still in high school. Some might have married the father of the children later, while others had children with multiple fathers and boyfriends.

The “[Rio Grande] Valley attitude” with its “despised macho-ness” was one of the major motivators cited for postsecondary education. The women reported that the men in the Valley were living for the here-and-now with no future plans. Despite the strong patriarchal culture, many of the women had “surprisingly supportive husbands,” researchers said.

Unfortunately, the students reported a lack of support even from those instructors with a strong Hispanic background as well as from high school counselors who did not bother discussing their going on to college.

The study suggests that policymakers and institutions both do their part to encourage Hispanic women in the higher education sphere. The latter can provide student services through mentors, financial aid/work study, developmental courses, child-care services, academic support, as well as having the right instructors for advising these students.

Texas Southmost College, a community college in Brownsville, has an articulation agreement with the University of Texas at Brownsville and students can choose to do an associate’s degree at the community college and then transfer to UT-Brownsville or enroll at the four-year school from the start.

Of the 63 students, 36 were female. They were split between traditional and non-traditional-aged college students, with a few more  in the 18-24 years category. Of the entire group, 29 were transfers into a four-year program, while 34 had the four-year degree as their initial objective.

According to Stick, many Hispanic women would choose the community college option, “but in terms of making the transfer from the two-year to four-year, it wasn’t very effective.”

The researchers divided the interviews into 13 categories and six themes. The categories included gender, marital status, English language proficiency, family education, study discipline, any help the students received and their reflections on education, and if they attended full-time or part-time.

–Diverse staff

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