By 2025, a quarter of the nation’s college-age students will be Latino. While the current number of Hispanics in higher education institutions have increased to its highest level — Latinos are currently 16.5 percent of the college/higher ed population, the nation’s second largest group after non-Hispanic whites — there is still a pressing need to increase the numbers.
So as we approach a new year, what should the focus be to ensure more Latinos are joining the country’s higher education ranks? There are three things to look out for, according to Deborah Santiago, co-founder and Vice President for Policy and Research at Excelencia in Education. The organization researches and reports on Latinos in higher education.
The following three areas are key to improving Latino college attendance and graduation rates.
Keep the focus on need-based financial aid
“Need-based financial aid is critical to so many Latino families,” says Santiago. In Texas, a state with a high Latino population, 75 percent of students in the 2008-2009 school year relied on federal resources to pay for college, according to an Excelencia report. A 2009 Pew Hispanic Center survey by Mark Hugo Lopez found the main reason for modest educational attainment aspirations among Latinos aged 16 to 25 was due to financial considerations, and about 75 percent of Latinos surveyed ended their education before or after high school because they had to work.
Excelencia recommends increasing work-study programs, more guaranteed need-based programs, early college high school and dual enrollment programs, and even the use of installment plans and emergency loans — all strategies that have been utilized by higher-education institutions in Texas with large Latino populations.
Increase funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs)
“More than half of our Latino college students are enrolled in the 10 percent of colleges identified as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs),” says Santiago. HSIs are identified as accredited and degree-granting public or private nonprofit higher education institutions with at least 25 percent total undergraduate Latino student enrollment. A recent Excelencia in Education report found that in the last six years, HSIs grew by 130 percent. In the 2010-2011 school year, 311 HSIs received 117 million in Title V federal funding, intended to improve academic quality and capacity building in these institutions.
The report found that HSI’s primarily used the federal dollars for two things — to improve faculty development and student support services. “These institutions could have used the funds for construction, or improving facilities, but instead they’re keeping their eye on the prize, and made a choice to improve student success,” says Santiago. “That is significant, and it supports why we should be investing in these institutions,” she adds.
Improve issue of limited capacity
“Many Latinos live in states with limited capacity for higher ed, and in some states like Texas and California there are not enough seats for Latinos who are ready for college,” Santiago explains. There are several things institutions can try to do to address this issue. Santiago cites the upcoming merger of the University of Texas in Brownsville and the University of Texas/Panamerican, which will allow the soon-to-be bigger institution to access to more state funding and expanded resources.
Institutions and education experts are looking at other ways to increase capacity, says Santiago. Some states with space due to dwindling population, for example, are recruiting Latino students. Schools with limited capacity are trying to figure out ways to increase their available seats through alternatives such as work-study programs.
Santiago says solving the capacity issue is critical as the nation’s Latino children grow up. “If we are having this situation now in areas with high Latino population growth, imagine 12 years from now as all the little children are ready to go to college,” says Santiago.