Opinion

America can’t reach its higher ed goals if it excludes its young Latino population

Financial aid and other keys to accelerating efforts

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Deborah Santiago

The job market today requires education beyond a high school degree.

We encourage our kids that if they can “dream it, they can do it.”

For America to become the world leader in college degrees — and to reap the economic and social benefits that come with that success — we must close the educational attainment gap between Latinos and their white counterparts.

In order to close that gap and truly achieve educational equity, we must not only enhance and increase Latino student success. We must accelerate it.

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Thankfully, there are institutions and programs effectively accelerating and supporting the success of Latino students, helping them to bridge the gap and achieve the college education necessary to succeed and to strengthen America for the future.

Latinos are the second largest student population enrolled in higher education today. In the last 20 years, Latino enrollment in higher education has tripled, from 1 to 3.2 million. Today, they represent more than 17 percent of all higher education students in 2013-14, and that representation is expected to grow.

The young and rapidly growing Latino population is the key to the nation reaching its degree attainment goals. The median age of Latinos in the U.S. is 27, compared with 42 for white, non-Hispanic Americans. In 2014, Latinos represented 26 percent of students enrolled in K-12 education. By 2024, Latinos will make up nearly three in 10 students.

Our analysis has shown that three policy areas—academic preparation, institutional capacity, and financial aid—can support the achievement of Latino and post-traditional students.

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For example, the Community Scholars Program at Georgetown University, a 2011 Examples of Excelencia finalist, offers students, many of whom are first-generation and represent a diverse racial and ethnic background, a unique opportunity to thrive in college. Their efforts include a summer program to give students a head start on credits and academic writing, study group sessions, first-year and ongoing support, and additional scholarships.

Thanks to this program, 75 percent of the class of 2014 had a four-year graduation rate, achieved an average GPA of 3.035, and had a freshman-to-sophomore retention rate of 95 percent.

At the federal level, Title V funding for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) has helped institutions better serve Latino students. Our research shows that over the past 20 years, this investment has helped those institutions significantly in building their capacity and educational offerings—and as they’ve grown, so has Latino educational attainment. Thanks in part to these intentional efforts, Latino educational attainment has nearly doubled, from 12 to 23 percent as of 2014.

Financial aid is key in Latino student success, and the  community efforts in San Antonio, Texas, are a prime example of its effectiveness. Among the initiatives there was “Student Aid Saturdays San Antonio” (SASSA), which aimed to increase financial aid applications among Latinos in the area. They helped connect students with resources and information about financial aid, and they recruited volunteers to provide one-on-one financial aid support.

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Our research has shown that 35 percent of Latinos who drop out do so for financial reasons, so understanding and applying for financial aid is critical for Latino students.

After the second year of the program, 868 individuals who found help at SASSA were surveyed, 82 percent of whom were Latino. Ninety-five percent of respondents said SASSA was helpful, and 67 percent reported that they wouldn’t have completed financial aid forms without their assistance.

Human capital is one of our country’s most precious resources, and we must take advantage of it to reach our full potential as a nation. Increasing educational attainment among Latinos is imperative to this goal, and we as a nation can help.

Investing in what works for Latino students is an investment in America’s economic future. Everyone deserves opportunities for success and upward mobility that come from hard work and equal access to education.

Deborah Santiago is COO and Vice President for Policy of Excelencia in Education.

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Deborah Santiago

Deborah Santiago is COO and Vice President for Policy of Excelencia in Education. See Archive

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