Solutions to the needs of tomorrow can begin in the classrooms of higher education institutions today. But first, institutions will need to adapt to the needs of Latino students. In doing so, they will not only serve this student population better, but all students will be able to benefit from this reimagined system of support.

According to data from the 2020 U.S. Census, more than half of the country’s growth since 2010 came from the Latino population. As part of this fast-growing demographic, Latino students are enrolling in college at an increasing rate. Their enrollment rate stands out especially in a period of dropping enrollment rates across all higher ed sectors.

However, these figures don’t paint the full picture. Graduation rates for Latino students have increased, but not commensurately with their enrollment rates. Latino students’ degree completion rate still lags that of their White peers—at 24% and 46%, respectively. As more Latino students enroll in college, this equity gap will only exacerbate workforce readiness concerns.

Understand where Latino students are coming from

To begin to better support Latino students, it’s important to understand a few key characteristics about them:

  • Latino students often come from communities where family connections are strong, and many Latino students act as a caregiver/provider for family members.
  • While not always first-generation students, Latino students are often the first in their immediate family to go to college.
  • Latino students are more likely to come from low-income communities, are often debt-averse, and they may work more than the “traditional” student to pay for their education.

In a typical college or university structure, these characteristics and responsibilities can be seen as putting Latino students at a deficit, taking time away from their studies. But Latino students have high aspirations. They attend college to access greater opportunities, both for themselves and their families. These students find strength in their relationships, and they understand the financial realities of college.

Create culturally mindful opportunities

Higher education institutions can (and have) created solutions that consider Latino students’ situations. Texas State University’s STEM Undergraduate Research Experience, or SURE, is one good example. While catering to students of all backgrounds, SURE has had excellent results for Latino students in STEM majors. The program pairs students with a mentor, fostering a one-on-one relationship that many Latino students find valuable, and is a paid program, allowing students to both learn and earn.

Learn more about the SURE program’s outcomes in our on-demand webinar.

Rethink how you collect and view student data

In many college strategic plans, the measurement of student success metrics like enrollment and graduation rates is essential. But when these metrics are calculated using only aggregated data for an entire student body, the equity gaps that Latino students face are neither considered nor examined.

Aggregated data, while easier to come by in many cases, is only painting the picture of student success in broad strokes. Disaggregating student data by race and ethnicity offers a fuller, more detailed image. Analysis using disaggregated data can help institutions pinpoint critical areas where specific groups of students need more assistance, such as financial wellness, degree completion, sense of belonging, and so on.

By disaggregating data for Latino students, institutions will have a better opportunity to see how these students are faring throughout the college journey. They’ll be able to see which support methods work and which don’t, all by the numbers.

Looking ahead

As Latino students stand to alter the higher education landscape, they may be considered “post-traditional” by the way they seek out education. Ultimately, the higher education institutions that don’t adapt to supporting these students stand to be left behind by them. By meeting their values and commitments with acceptance, higher education has a chance to help decrease inequity and increase prosperity for generations of students to come.

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