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How to Move Latinx Students into High-Paying Jobs


Pexels Linkedin Sales Navigator 1251842Between 2010 and 2020, Latinx people accounted for over 50% of the U.S. population growth. Currently, one fifth of the U.S. population is Latinx, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinx workers made up 66% of the workforce in 2021. By 2031, Latinx workers will make up 90% of the new workforce.

Yet despite their representation in the U.S. workforce, Latinx workers earn the lowest weekly salary when compared with other races and ethnicities in the U.S. Latinx employees are also more likely than any other racial group to work manual labor jobs.

“This disproportionate representation of Latinos relative to management and professional fields shows where we are, but also shows the opportunity to make sure there is wider representation across occupations in fields across the country,” said Dr. Deborah Santiago, CEO and co-founder of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support and success of Latinx students in higher education.

That’s why Excelencia has issued four new reports in its continuing investigation into the relationship between institutions, Latinx students, and the workforce. This year, Excelencia also examined three specific areas of industry projected to grow by roughly 10% by 2031: STEM (statistics, technology, engineering and mathematics), healthcare, and educational professions.

Excelencia’s reports have identified the top institutions that are not only recruiting, supporting, and graduating Latinx students, but following through after graduation and connecting their students with well-paying jobs. Excelencia’s leadership recommended these institutions should be models for others, to create more pipelines from which promising Latinx talent can connect with high-wage earning jobs. Experts said that philanthropists and policy makers should also ensure that the institutions who produce Latinx talent receive the resources they need to continue.

“From our data, it’s clear that the majority of institutions graduating Latinos overall in STEM, health, and education are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs),” said Santiago. “Increasingly, we are seeing an increase in institutions that are Seal certified for intentionality in serving students.”

HSI is a federal designation for institutions with at least 25% Latinx student populations. Excelencia also established its Seal of Excelencia to bestow upon institutions doing remarkable jobs of purposefully serving their Latinx students. Currently, 572 institutions qualify as HSI, but only about 7% of those have received Excelencia’s Seal.

“These institutions know the students they have at their campuses, they know who they serve, what their needs are, and are connected to the community, making links between institutions to local service and employers,” said Emily Labandera, director of research at Excelencia.

Labandera said partnerships are built from both directions—it’s not just institutions connecting with regional employers, but also the companies looking to hire Latinx talent reaching out to institutions and faculty to better connect with the communities they serve and build a more purposeful curriculum that connects students’ learning with skills they will use on the job.

Dr. Elizabeth Béjar, provost at Florida International University (FIU), a public four-year HSI in Miami, that’s also Seal certified, said FIU began thinking seriously about how to help Latinx students “break through their own career glass ceiling” years ago.

She said that many first-generation, Latinx students do not have the tacit knowledge of the professional ecosystem and the steps and connections it might take to become employed.

Dr. Elizabeth Béjar, provost at Florida International University.Dr. Elizabeth Béjar, provost at Florida International University.“So, we took a proactive approach and invested in career services. We set the expectation from day one that students would use those teams [to develop that understanding,]” said Béjar.

FIU now offers micro-credentials for their students, a curated pathway that can connect them to employment opportunities starting day one. FIU also opened their doors to regional employers, “demystifying” the organization for its corporate partners, allowing them to come seek employees at FIU “holistically,” Béjar said.

Dallas College (DC), a system of community colleges serving greater Dallas area of Texas, “is in the barrier-busting business,” said Chancellor Dr. Justin H. Lonon. He acknowledged that life troubles often get in the way of a student’s completion or success, so DC uses wrap-around supports to bolster the whole student, not just their academics.

“We’re also mindful that our students don’t often have the opportunity, or haven’t had the opportunity, to think about what opportunities exist for them,” said Lonon.

With that in mind, Lonon said DC “took their old advising model, blew it up, and put it back together with double the number of traditional advisors in a student success role, and double their salary to elevate the role.”

“Every student is assigned a success coach that helps on their academic journey and life issues like transportation, child care, or mental health,” said Lonon.

DC also consciously connects with regional employers, with each president at their seven campuses becoming industry sector leads.

“The presidents engage directly with CEOs and leadership in those industries to better understand their needs and how DC can intervene, if we can be the answer,” said Lonon.

Connecting the growing Latinx population with high-earning wages is critical to the success of families, communities and regions, but also the success of the U.S. economy, said Eloy Oakley, president and CEO of College Futures Foundation, a California-based organization supporting higher education for all.

Oakley said that institutions need to do more to connect the dots for their learners, helping them make the right choices to end up in careers that set their families up for intergenerational wealth. He said this requires dedicated partnerships to get students on the right path.

“We always talk about partnerships, but they have to extend beyond rhetoric,” said Oakley. “[Partnerships] have to become real and intentional—clarifying those pathways, ensuring employers see talent coming through pipelines and find the talent at colleges and universities.” 

Liann Herder can be reached at [email protected].

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