Getting to the Finish Line

I wanted to add some thoughts to my last post regarding the recent PEW Hispanic Research report.   As noted, some of the positive trends outlined in the report include:

  • Latino college enrollment surged 24% from 2009 to 2010 increasing to 12.2 million Latinos enrolled in college as of October 2010.
  • The percentage of Latinos completing high school increased three percent from 70% in 2009 to 73% in 2010. Of those graduates, 44% are attending college, an increase of five percent from 2009.
  • Latino 18-24 year-olds exceeded the number of African-American students enrolled in college.
  • Enrollment increases are not just associated to Latino population growth but overall educational accomplishments.

While these trends suggest that a college education is more accessible to Latino students, two worrying trends remain. First, the study reaffirms that the Latino higher educational path passes through 2-year colleges. Only 54% of Latinos attend 4-year institutions, as opposed to 73% of white college students. Second, only 13% of young Latino adults have earned at least a bachelor’s degree – the least of any major racial/ethnic group.

The PEW data suggests there are obvious leaks along the Latino educational “pipeline.” As a side note, I’ve noted before that “pipeline” is a misnomer for characterizing the Latino higher education experience which resembles a circuit rather than a linear path. And herein, I believe, rests part of the college completion problem: a lack of understanding.

There are various factors that impact Latino college completion including persistent socio-economic challenges, the high number of first-generation Latino college students, the absence of college information, and many others. However, one of the most important factors, I would argue, is the lack of institutional support and commitment. Studies have demonstrated that fostering a strong academic and a social environment for Latino college students, particularly for those students at 2-year colleges, increases the probability that they will transfer to 4-year colleges and ultimately graduate.

As the Latino population expands beyond its traditional geographic centers, both 2-year and 4-year colleges must work harder to create proactive strategies in an effort to understand and reach Latino college students. Aggressive academic counseling, accelerated community building, and persistent student communication are just some strategies that can have an immediate impact on transfer and completion rates. There are many other strategies, of course, and this short article is not meant to provide all the solutions. There are experts more qualified than I who can provide exceptional guidance in this regard.

What I do hope to convey is this: it’s a tragedy that so many young talented Latinos are still escaping our grasp. Rather than adding another patch to an already leaky educational pipeline, let’s change our perspective. By creating a new paradigm and understanding that not all roads to college are equal, we can help unleash a new generation of leaders.