The youngest and fastest growing population group in the U.S., Latinos now account for more than 20 percent of K-12 students. However, in 2012, 21.3 percent of Latino adults had earned an associate degree or higher compared to 40.1 percent of all adults. Excelencia in Education‘s national initiative, Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion, is focusing on community colleges, because that’s where most Latinos start — and end — their pursuit of higher education.
In a new report, “Supporting Latino Community College Students: An Investment in Our Economic Future, Excelencia and Single Stop USA describe how innovative community colleges are changing financial aid and studentservices to help low-income students — including many Latinos — stay in college.
. . . many Latino students are the first in their family to attend college and make choices to contain costs by enrolling at community colleges, attending part-time, and working more than 20 hours per week while enrolled. Unfortunately, data show all these practical choices by students hinder their college completion.
Too few Latino students know there are resources available to assist with college costs. They are also less likely to access financial resources like tax credits, food assistance, and public health insurance that can enable them to maintain a stable family budget while enrolled. Single Stop USA and its community college partners connect thousands of students to millions of dollars in existing benefits and services that immediately reduce the financial strain faced by Latino students.
Single Stop sites at 17 community colleges help students file their taxes, apply for government benefits, and receive financial and legal counseling. Thirty-eight percent of students served in 2012 were Latino.
The report recommends:
Federal policy makers can utilize Higher Education Act reauthorization to incentivize colleges to implement student services that are well aligned with retention, completion and employment outcomes, such as the models being developed by Single Stop.
Complement investments in financial aid by providing student support services that address multiple barriers that can thwart Latino student completion.
Improve targeting of information regarding financial aid by intentionally developing dissemination strategies that will more effectively reach Latino, low-income and other post-traditional students.
Address antiquated eligibility rules that disqualify needy students from receiving aid that can help them complete college and attain self-sufficiency.
“America’s future economic success is deeply connected to Latino college completion,” says Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, which is working with Single Stop.
At Miami Dade College, pass-Math is boosting Latino pass rates in gatekeeper math courses, improving retention and reducing math anxiety. A program at LaGuardia Community College strengthens counseling to help Latino and other low-income students move from remedial to college-level courses. San Diego State’s peer Mentoring program (pMp) helps community college transfers handle the transition.
Only 21 percent of Latino adults 25 and older have completed an associate degree or higher, compared to 40 percent of all U.S. adults. More Latinos are enrolling in college — especially community college — but success rates are low.
The report spotlights a variety of programs.
The Mother-Daughter Program at Knox College (Illinois) counseled families on the importance of completing a degree. “Latino families make decisions together and an informed family is more supportive,” says Deborah Santiago, Excelencia’s vice president of policy. Some mothers decided to enroll in college after participating with their daughters.
Some programs target male Latinos, who have higher dropout rates. At Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, Doorway to Success focused on improving male students’ study habits, engagement and retention. The Clave Latino Male Empowerment program at Union County College in New Jersey includes learning communities, a monthly lecture series, professional development opportunities and a social and professional support network for business and economics students.
The road map recommends that colleges focus their policy work on increasing retention for working students, growing early-college high schools and dual-enrollment programs, and guaranteeing need-based aid for qualified students.
By 2025, Hispanics will make up one quarter of the college-age population, Excelencia predicts. Fulfilling President Obama’s college-completion goal is impossible without improving Hispanic success rates.
The road map includes examples of initiatives that are “moving the needle” on degree attainment.
For example, to increase student retention, the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico offers general-education courses online as a backup system for students in good academic standing with unexpected work-schedule changes during a semester.
The University of Texas at El Paso’s Promise Plan covers all tuition and mandatory fees for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less who are Texas residents, complete 30 credits a year, and earn a grade-point average of 2.0 or higher.
Sixty groups, including Jobs for the Future and Project Grad USA, joined Excelencia in the project, called Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion. The Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education,and the Kresge Foundation funded the effort.
The road map urges better “training and materials for loan-default management and financial literacy . . . to better serve low-income students.”
Contrary to common perceptions, close to 90 percent of Hispanic students were born in the U.S., according to a 2009 Excelencia report . More than 80 percent of Hispanic school-age children speak English with no difficulty. Despite low graduation rates, 2008 Census data showed than 67 percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 had completed high school.
Excelencia in Education’s Ensuring America’s Future will look for ways to increase Latino college completion rates. The Gates Foundation, which hopes to double the number of young people earning a degree or job certificate by age 26, is providing funding.
President Obama’s goal of making the U.S. first in the world in college completion can’t be achieved without Latinos, argues Excelencia.
The group has issued two reports. Ensuring America’s Future: Benchmarking Latino College Completion to Meet National Goals: 2010 to 2020 reports that only 21.7 of 18- to 29-year-old Latinos had earned associate or bachelor’s degrees in 2007-08, versus 49.1 percent of whites. The second report is Ensuring America’s Future: Federal Policy and Latino College Completion.