Improving Educational and Socio-Economic Outcomes For Hispanic/LatinX Populations
Written By: Margie Vela, PhD.
A Look at The Data
Funding, designing, and implementing effective diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives is a priority for student success. Demographics in the United States (US) detail historical as well as project continuous growth in the Hispanic/Latinx and multiracial populations through 2029. As seen in Figure 1, K-12 enrollment rates for these populations have been growing since 2014 .
However, the high school dropout rate for the Hispanic/Latinx community is substantially higher than any other ethnic group in the US. The rate for high school completion with no college education is substantially higher for Hispanic/Latinx populations than for White populations, and college enrollment rates for Hispanic/Latinx students are lower than their White counterparts, as noted in Table 1 . Note: People whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. Data may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.
Historically, this population has faced barriers to entry and to graduation at higher levels of education, as indicated by educational attainment data presented below in Figure 2 .
Further analysis of income data, specifically low average weekly earnings, presented in Figure 3, documents the socioeconomic hardship faced by the Hispanic/Latinx population . We can conclude that financial hardship has an impact on Hispanic/Latinx students’ need to participate in the labor force while attending school.
As seen in Figure 4, Hispanic/Latinx student participation in the labor force while attending college is greater than all other ethnic and racial groups in the country . Hispanic/Latinx students often strive for improved social mobility through pursuits of higher education degrees that must be completed to actuate the benefits. The aforementioned conditions have a substantial impact on the student experience and indicate a critical need to create and develop academic, financial, and social support systems for student success throughout the educational pipeline for Hispanic/Latinx students.
Synthesizing the Data, Interventions, and Next Steps
A synthesis of the statistical data presented above clearly indicates opportunities for improving student success for Hispanic/Latinx students. Academic and social support systems and programs that lead to high school and first-generation college student degree completion; targeted recruitment and low-barrier entry to every level of higher education; and experiential learning opportunities that give students valuable experience while providing financial support are at the center of student success for this population.
The high school and college dropout rates for Hispanic/Latinx students indicate that interventions supporting high school and college retention and completion should remain a priority over the next decade. According to the National Education Association (NEA) Foundation, Hispanic/Latinx students disproportionately leave school, before and after high school graduation, to contribute economically to their families . This is especially pronounced for 1st and 2nd generation immigrants yet permeates the entire Hispanic population .
NEA presents one of the most effective interventions for improving high school completion through its full-service community high school model. This model provides wrap around services and curriculum tailored for 1st and 2nd generation Hispanic/Latinx immigrant students. Similar approaches for undergraduate and graduate education are also effective as demonstrated by programs such as Avanza at Dona Ana Community College in Southern New Mexico.
In addition, to providing students full-service schools and culturally relevant curriculum, public schools in Prince Georges County, Maryland are beginning to model education promoters after “promotoras de salud” that have been effective for improving healthcare and health program engagement in Latinx communities . This model, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Investing in Education Fund , connects families with resources such as employment and education options for parents, legal aid, food, housing, and other support. This type of intervention for college students and their families is also of importance, as indicated by the Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends Report, which asserts that the most common barrier to entry and completion for this population of college students is financial pressure to support their families . It Is imperative that institutions of education create opportunities for communicating the importance of attending college for students and parents; guide families for navigating the K-20 education system; and clearly articulate the expectations for students and their families as they enter higher education.
Targeted recruitment and low-barrier entry to every level of college education are also important for the Hispanic/Latinx student population. Recruitment of students begins with recruitment of diverse employees. Hispanic/Latinx students benefit from a diverse workforce working together to devise and implement strategies that create inclusive environments and equitable opportunities for a diverse student body. It is imperative that students’ experiences are relatable and represented throughout every level of the institution. In addition, as student recruitment takes place, it is critical to consider a holistic admissions process, especially for students from under-resourced: communities, high schools, community colleges, or universities.
The holistic admissions process at every level of education considers the opportunities available to students, the responsibilities students engage in their homes as contributors to their households, the resources available to students, and the academic achievements of students with regard to the aforementioned. Further, low-barrier entry to all levels of college also include removing financial barriers before financial aid disbursements (i.e. application fees, orientation fees, large housing deposits, and any other fees). Moreover, providing students with a resource for guiding scholarship, internship and grant applications is central to college recruitment and retention for Hispanic/Latinx students. Implementing processes and practices that target recruitment, increase student belonging, and minimize barriers to entry are central to recruiting and retaining Hispanic/Latinx students.
Improving college enrollment rates alone will not have a positive impact on social mobility for the Hispanic/Latinx population. Improving college graduation rates, however, is central to impacting socio-economic outcomes. It is vital to provide support systems throughout the undergraduate experience that enhance social and academic performance for students.
One exemplar for effective programming that supports college student success for first-generation college students from underrepresented populations is the Science and Mathematics Initiative for Learning Enrichment at Delaware State University . This program effectively engaged social and academic support systems for students, while also providing students with the opportunity to earn stipends through experiential learning opportunities. Peer-mentoring, facilitated faculty engagement with students, pre-freshman orientation and early online courses, weekly study halls and undergraduate research opportunities engaged students in cohorts that were provided academic and social support programs. The program effectively improved graduation rates up to 20% when compared to non-participants in the program over 5 cohorts . Implementing programs that integrate various types of support systems have improved results for first-generation college students entering higher education from underrepresented and under-resourced high schools.
Experiential learning, internships, fellowships, and research experiences that provide financial support in the form of stipends or wages provide academic training and relevant work experience, while meeting financial need for students. Institutions should endeavor to provide opportunities for all students to participate in on-campus employment through these types of prospects. Programs that fund this improve institutional capacity, meet financial need for students and provide Hispanic/Latinx students with opportunities for gaining experience in their field, while building a network for prospective employment.
One of many responsibilities that institutions of higher education should embrace is to graduate students who are workforce-ready and competitive for employment in the job market. As indicated by many studies, racial discrimination in hiring practices require graduates from all underrepresented populations to demonstrate superior credentials for employability . Thus, the onus for providing these experiences lies with institutions of higher education for improving social mobility for the Hispanic/Latinx population.
The Hispanic/Latinx population is growing at a fast rate in the United States. As this population continues to grow, the entire country will benefit from facilitating better socio-economic outcomes for this population. These outcomes are concurrent with academic achievement and practical experience. Educators at all levels of education and leadership are beckoned to work together in an intentional way to meet the needs of this population for improving Hispanic/Latinx student success and socio-economic outcomes. Funding, designing, and implementing programs that are deliberate in providing academic, financial and social support systems to this population are imperative to realizing this achievement.
Dr. Margie Vela is a researcher, educator and public servant devoted to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Higher Education and STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in Water Science and Management from New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 2019 and served the State of New Mexico in public service as a Regent for the NMSU System from 2017-2019. She served as an intern at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2015 and as a Farmer-to-Farmer USAID volunteer in 2018. Her career in DEI began at Fort Lee Garrison, where she served as Director for HIRED, a program that prepares dependents of military personnel to enter college or the workforce. Her career in Higher Education began at Delaware State University, a Historically Black University, in 2010, where she implemented a multi-million-dollar program focused on diversifying the STEM enterprise.
Currently, Dr. Vela serves as Senior Project Manager for the NSF HSI National STEM Resource Hub working to implement a project aimed to bolster STEM at 539 Hispanic Serving Institutions in grantsmanship, multicultural awareness, institutional capacity building and STEM pedagogy; and facilitating partnerships across institutions and disciplines. Dr. Vela serves the NMSU Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Chapter as founding Co-Advisor and has served as a national panelist for SACNAS in DEI training as an alumnus of SACNAS Postdoctoral Leadership Institute. She recently earned a Certificate in DEI from Cornell University.
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