Latino males have some of the nation’s lowest college enrollment and completion rates. While their numbers at colleges and universities have increased in the last 20 years, they have failed to keep pace with other ethnic groups.
The gender gap among Latinos on the nation’s campuses has also widened. Last month, the American Council on Education released a report that showed that while the gender gap in higher education has stabilized, it continues to expand among Latinos.
Dr. Victor Saenz, an assistant professor of higher education administration at The University of Texas at Austin, has been at the forefront of this issue and on a crusade to move policymakers to action before it’s too late. Latinos are the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group. They account for 15.4 percent of the nation’s population—a figure that is expected to double in 40 years.
Saenz believes these low numbers could have dire consequences for the nation’s future and its prosperity.
“We have the possibility of developing a permanent underclass in this country,” if the trend continues, Saenz says. “We have the possibility of maybe even inflating the number of (incarcerated) Latinos.”
For much of his academic career, Saenz has had strong research interests in diversity, desegregation, border education issues and college access and readiness for all Latinos.
Saenz’s specific interest in higher education and Latino males began a few years ago when the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education commissioned him to write a paper about it. To carry out the project, he teamed with Dr. Luis Ponjuan, a colleague at the University of Florida.
“We were able to immerse ourselves in the topic and found that very little has been published on the subject of Latino males,” he says.
The paper, “The Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education,” which examined the low number of Latinos in college campuses and investigated the reasons for the poor numbers, has been widely cited by educators around the country.
Saenz, who has become a recognized authority on Latino males and higher education in recent years, is teaming again with Ponjuan to work on two studies about Latino males. One study focuses on Latinos at two-year colleges while the other examines Latinos at four-year institutions.
“We are focused on the issue of retention,” Saenz says. “Concerns exist for (Latino) enrollment in higher education, but also exist for degree completion. There is a gap at both ends of that pipeline. We lose them to alternative pathways, such as the military, and there’s a chunk of our young men that go into incarceration. The biggest chunk forgoes opportunity to go to college. A big proportion of young Latino males head directly into the work force. The larger problem is that many of them are not going into the work force armed with the kind of education designed to help them become upwardly mobile members of society.”
Saenz hopes his work and that of his colleagues gets the attention of policymakers.
“One of our aims is to raise awareness,” he says. “We need help to further understand this issue. We need to really get our hands on deck regarding its broader dimensions.”
One of those broader dimensions, Saenz says, is the impact it could have on family and culture in the Latino community.
Female partners are now outgaining male partners, he says. “We don’t know how that might affect gender norms in the Latino community. How are these gender norms going to be renegotiated?”