According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 47 million Hispanic Americans in the United States, accounting for 15% of the U.S. population. The American Latino population represents the largest minority group in the U.S., and has been the fastest growing segment during the past five decades.
However, despite these numbers, Hispanic students have limited participation in higher education. According to the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, only 19.2% of Latinos have a college degree; less than half the national average of 41%.
In any prosperous nation, higher education plays a pivotal role in creating a foundation for a flourishing economy. An educated workforce leads to better paying jobs, global competition, increased tax revenues and support for social programs like Social Security and Medicare. Attaining a college degree is also the cornerstone of the “American Dream,” which offers graduates prospects of social mobility and opportunities not possible without such education.
With Latinos representing the fastest-growing group of Americans, it’s critical to understand why they’re not obtaining college degrees at the same rate as other college students, and what we can do to ensure they are a successful component to our country looking into the future. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Education report, Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, approximately 57% of full-time students nationwide completed a bachelor’s degree within six years, while only 46% of Latino students did.
However, colleges across the nation report varying degrees of Latino graduation rates. According to CollegeResults.org, several universities in Southern California, where the Latino population is one of the largest in the country, have varying Latino graduation rates—some as low as 6.5%. At United States University, an accredited institution with exclusive benefits and scholarships for students of Hispanic origin, we’ve achieved a Latino graduation rate of 68%. So, what are the fundamental elements that help Latino college students succeed and attain college degrees?
1. Mentor Support
Even at the elementary and secondary levels, Latino teachers are scarce. NBC Latino recently reported that Teach for America and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund want to match the ratio of Latino teachers to the Latino student body. Latino teachers at any education level provide Hispanic students with relatable and positive role models. At United States University, Latinos comprise 48 percent of the University’s full-time and part-time faculty, which reflects the majority Hispanic student population.
2. Scholarships & Grants
Do not underestimate the value of scholarships and grants. Even if it only pays for a small portion of your tuition, that’s a small portion you won’t have to pay, unlike loans. There are private and public Latino scholarships offered across the country every day. Some are specific to a university or field of study, while others are available to any Latino student nationwide. Latino students should familiarize themselves with scholarship databases, like LatinoCollegeDollars.org from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, to help identify scholarships that best fit their education goals. Latinos also have the benefit of applying for the Federal Pell Grant Program to receive up to $5,500 annually. Pell Grants are awarded based on financial need, school costs and student status.
3. Work Experience
One of the most common reasons for a student to drop out of college or not continue their education after high school is high tuition costs. In California, tuition has increased by 21% in the past year at public four-year colleges, and nationwide the median tuition at four-year colleges is approximately $10,000 a year. With these staggering tuition spikes, working a part-time or full-time job can be essential to the ability of some students to continue attending school.
4. Online Programs
Look for flexible programs that can accommodate your work schedule, such as online programs or a hybrid of online and on-campus courses. Online courses have improved ten-fold since they were first available, and now students can earn credible degrees—both undergraduate and master’s— all online.
5. Career Advising
Instead of jumping into a program right away, it’s vital to research and meet with qualified advisors to map out your degree and path to graduation. By being organized before even starting your first day of classes, you can track how long it’s going to take to earn your degree and how much it’s going to cost. We’ve seen the best long-term career success from our students when advisors can also help students join job placement programs before graduation. If done properly, you’ll have one foot out the door and in a job before you’ve even received your diploma.
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