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Engaging Families for Latino Student Success in Higher Education

Mercedes TerrazasMercedes Terrazas

In September 2015, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics marked its 25th anniversary.

With the shift in the nation’s demographics, higher education is concerned with the academic success of Latinos. Not only is the federal government trying to address issues of access and equity for the populations of underserved minorities, but higher education plays a crucial role in reducing the educational gaps for Latinos.

In the late 1950s, the Latino population protested and fought for its right to be recognized as an identifiable ethnic group. Once this occurred, the federal government was forced to play a critical role as a stakeholder in identifying and actively participating in Latino issues. The low educational attainment of Latinos calls for national attention.

Latinos constitute one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States. This growth has led Latinos to become one of the “largest” racial/ethnic groups in American higher education: 54 million strong. Yet, they are one of the least-educated and least-represented ethnic groups in educational institutions. Overall, the Latino population faces serious challenges in education.

What are some of the main barriers preventing Latinos from completing a college degree? Latinos are struggling with access to higher education, navigating the college process, and, once enrolled, paying for their college education.

College tuition continues to increase in significant numbers. With the augmented demand for higher educational degrees, it is quite alarming that Latinos are less likely to have access to higher education.

Here are some factors to success:

  • Culturally Sensitive Programs. Providing culturally sensitive programs to increase access, retention, equity and college success for underserved students is imperative. Latinos are a distinct ethnic group that shouldn’t be overlooked, but more research should be conducted to improve the experiences of Latinos in higher education.
  • College Affordability. Colleges and universities that are dedicated to serving minority students are struggling with declining government assistance for students, states cutting funding and low endowments. Tuition at a four-year public institution has increased drastically in comparison to inflation rates.

While states have been cutting higher education budgets and reducing financial aid packages, students are in deeper debt to pay for college. This outrageous phenomena of high tuition costs is becoming detrimental to the future of higher education. This is problematic, as low-income underserved students are less likely to attend college with high tuition costs.

  • Latino Education Gap. The educational gap between Latinos and Whites is consistent across the United States and can be easily identified in states with large Latino populations. In 2010, 21 percent of Latino adults received a two-year degree or higher in comparison with 44 percent of their White counterparts.

Even though there are data that demonstrate that Latinos are enrolling into college, some predominantly White colleges are not equipped to foster the success of Latinos into their educational institutions. Yes, there are initiatives to increase college retention in hopes of reducing the educational gap; however, more has to be done for Latino students.

We are well informed that college affordability and tuition is based on our society’s growing demand for state-of-the-art educational spaces; excellent faculty; top-of-the-line resources; and high-quality technology, among other reasons. However, for institutions that yearn for a diverse student body, policy changes have to be implemented to increase the enrollment and retention of students of color in academia.

Latino students and families value education; however, they o­ften lack experience in navigating the college process; information and resources about how to apply to college, financial aid and college success in completing a degree; and finding support services through their educational journey. Engaging these families in the college process is imperative. About 50 percent of Latinos are first-generation college students, and one-third of Latino undergraduates continue to live at home while they attend college.

Finding ways to pay for college and having flexibility in attending classes are of particular concern for Latino students. Because Latino students are more likely to come from low-income families, strategies that provide financial support for these students to attend and remain in college are critical. Latino students also are less likely than other students to assume loans, more likely to attend part time, and more likely to work part or full time to help pay for college.

As a nation, we need to offer parents and students adequate college information, financial literacy workshops and essential student support services designed to increase Latinos’ college success. Latinos in higher education continue to experience educational disadvantages; o­ftentimes Latinos are facing the similar barriers they were facing in the 20th century.

It is imperative that, as a society, we provide effective outreach to include families and students in the college navigation process, from delivering financial literacy workshops to resources and crucial information families need to make informed decisions about college.

Mercedes Terrazas is a graduate student in the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

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