“Precipitous Drop” in Latino Students in College

Nadia Ramlagan | Public News Service
An estimated 48% of Hispanic students are first-generation students, compared with 28% of white students, according to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute. Photo Credit: Gabby K / Pexels

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The number of Latino students on college campuses fell by 20% last year, largely because of COVID-19-related job loss or illness, and so far, enrollment isn’t showing signs of bouncing back. The trend reverses gains made over the years in higher education among Latino students nationwide.

Deborah Santiago, chief executive of the nonprofit advocacy group Excelencia in Education, said many students have dropped out or delayed enrollment to help their families cope with reduced household income and coronavirus illness.

“That precipitous drop not only means that institutions are going to have to make a more concerted effort to outreach and engage us, at the time they were just starting to do so, but that we need to make sure we’re paying attention to retaining,” she said.

The National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks enrollment trends, has said fewer students are signing up for community college. In Tennessee, enrollment dropped by 11% last fall, and across the country, schools have seen a nearly 28% decrease in Latino student enrollment.

Santiago said she is worried the pandemic may cause some prospective students to completely give up on college. That’s a concern, when studies show people without higher-education credentials earn significantly less than those who have degrees or certificates. She said schools should be working to find solutions so students can stay employed while earning their degrees.

“If a student has to work, they’re able to get the kind of pathway to continue from a certificate to an associate to a baccalaureate degree,” she said, “and in the process, earn more in salary and connect them to the workforce.”

She added that extra support for Latino families, such as college orientations that include the whole family, can be critical to helping students succeed.

“Paying attention to populations that might be first in their families to go to college means we have to be very intentional in making sure they’re included,” she said.

The latest data show that, nationwide, college applications are slightly above what they were last year. However, the number of first-generation applicants and fee-waiver recipients has dipped, indicating colleges may need to increase their focus on attracting first-generation students.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.