Colleges welcome Latino students

Build supports for a growing—yet vulnerable—Latino population in higher ed

Latino students complete degrees at lower rates than other ethnic groups—and are more likely to still be enrolled after six years. These factors are prompting higher ed institutions to develop supports to help accelerate Latino student success.

Six years after initial enrollment, only 46 percent of Latino students have completed a two- or four-year degree, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Yet, while other demographics have recently dropped in enrollment, Latinos continue to increase, and by 2025 will constitute one-fifth of all college students, according to National Center for Education Statistics data.

The influx requires new initiatives on campuses, says Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing Latino student success. “Institutions that had not paid attention to us in the past have all of a sudden found us,” says Santiago.

‘Extra-special sauce’

Awareness of Latino students’ college experience is the first step, says Santiago. Institutions then need to analyze their Latino student pathways before determining what evidence-based practices can best support persistence and completion.

That effort should start at the top.

“The more presidents, deans and provosts keep the message in front of students, family, faculty and staff—that their institution is welcoming to all kinds of people, including Latinos, and that we want to help everyone attain academic and career success—the more it supports Latino students,” says John Moder, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Buy-in from faculty and staff—those who have the most interaction with students—allows supports to stay in place in the event of a leadership change. Adding more Latino faculty and staff is ideal, although education attainment levels still lag after a century of this demographic being underserved educationally in higher ed and K12, says Moder.

Identifying those who know the Latino community or come from it, and who have the ability to connect to students, can be that “extra-special sauce” for student success outcomes, says Santiago.

“We work with institutions such as Miami Dade College and Valencia College. As part of their faculty and staff hiring, they now ask key questions such as, ‘Do you know who is in our service area?’ ‘Do you know what our student composition looks like?’ and ‘Do you have the interest in serving this population?’ ”

First steps

Administrators must remember that myriad challenges are present when Latino students come from a low-income background. “For these students, getting the money together to pay for tuition and fees is only part of the challenge,” says Moder. “These students are usually trying to make ends meet at home as well as at school.”

He advises offering financial assistance beyond traditional student aid, such as emergency short-term loan funds that can help a student with an unexpected dental bill or car repair. “Sometimes a few hundred dollars doesn’t seem like a whole lot to the institution, but it’s a make-or-break situation for a student,” Moder says.

Also important for persistence and completion is engaging students’ social networks, which means making families familiar with the differences between high school and college in terms of coursework and learning expectations. “For a lot of first-generation students, the first step on a campus is like somebody’s first step on the moon,” says Moder.

Summer bridge programs and first-year resources can ease the transition. For example, Pasadena City College’s Math Jam summer bridge program provides instruction, plus introduces students to campus resources and helps reduce anxiety about academic expectations.

California State University, Dominguez Hills has implemented its Encuentro Hacia el Exito (Encounter to Excellence) first-year program, which includes a summer developmental education academy and additional preparation activities.

“So much of what we see is Latino students adapting and changing,” says Santiago. “But institutions can meet them part of the way.”

For more best practices and policy examples, see “College Completion Through a Latino Lens,” from Excelencia in Education, at


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