Hispanics in Higher Ed

Hispanic students need to earn 6.2 million degrees by 2030 to close the degree completion gap. How can colleges support Hispanic students?
"Our partnership with BibliU is absolutely critical in ensuring that we are meeting our mission of serving our Hispanic students.” - Dr. Lynda Villanueva, President of Lee College, a Hispanic-Serving Institute.

Over the past several decades, Hispanics have played an essential role in driving U.S. population growth. Between 2010 and 2021, the U.S. Hispanic population grew from 50.5 million to 62.5 million. This 19% increase in the Hispanic population is nearly three times faster than the U.S. growth rate of 7%.

During the same period, the U.S. population grew by 23.1 million. Hispanics accounted for 52% of this increase – giving them the greatest share in population growth than other racial or ethnic groups.

There are around 1.25 million Hispanics that are or will be college from now through 2031

Newborns, rather than immigrants, account for the recent growth of the U.S. Hispanic population. The boom in birth rates among Hispanics drove their median age down to 30, compared to 41.1 for non-Hispanics. In 2020, there were 11 million Hispanics ages 10-19. This means around 1.25 million Hispanics are or will be college-age from now through 2031.

These are strong indicators that the Hispanic population will continue to play a big role in shaping the U.S. higher ed system and the U.S. workforce for years to come. 

Educational attainment among U.S. Hispanics

Over the past decades, Hispanics have improved their educational attainment. From 2005 to 2021, the percentage of Hispanic people in the total student population of college students increased from 12% to 20%. 

Despite this progress, Hispanic students still trail behind their non-Hispanic peers in degree completion. Data released by Excelencia in Education, a DC-based Latino student success organization, reported that 48% of white adults have an associate’s degree or higher, compared to only 28% of Hispanic adults.

In community colleges, the degree attainment gap between Hispanic and the white demographic is prominent in several areas.

Graduation and four-year transfer rates are lower by five points for Hispanic students. Attrition is also higher by seven points among Hispanics than among their white peers (45% vs. 38%).

Hispanic students need to earn 6.2 million degrees by 2030 to narrow these degree attainment gaps.

What challenges do Hispanics face in enrolling in and graduating from college?

  • First-generation college students. A report published by Excelencia in Education showed that Latinos were much more likely to be first-generation college students than other racial or ethnic groups. About 44% of Latinos are the first in their family to attend college, while the average across all racial or ethnic groups is 29%.

Most parents of first-generation Hispanic students did not make it past high school due to a lack of access to college in their origin countries. For some students, language barriers can also be a complicating factor. In 2007, just 23% of first-generation adult Hispanic immigrants said they could converse in English well. Nearly three-quarters of Mexican immigrants (71%) say they speak English just a little or not at all. This generation would have been the parents of college-age students now and in the coming years. As a result, their children do not have readily available information and guidance in navigating the complexities of the U.S. higher ed system, including financial aid application and processing. 

  • Poverty: Hispanic students are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and struggle to meet basic needs like food, housing, healthcare and more. While Hispanic families have one of the highest workforce participation rates (65.5%), they are more likely than others to be in low-paying jobs with fewer opportunities for advancement. Hispanic children are nearly three times more likely to be living in poverty than white and Asian children. 

Among Hispanic students who enrolled in college, about three-quarters reported that they work and attend college at the same time to make ends meet. Most Hispanic students work more than 30 hours a week to finance their education, meet their basic needs or support their families.

  • Debt aversion. A paper published by UNIDOS US revealed a narrative around aversion to debt among Hispanics. For many in this demographic, a student loan is the only pathway to financing a degree. However, the study showed that Hispanics exhibited greater levels of aversion to education debt than non-Latinos. While the relationship between debt aversion and college completion has not been established, the study mentions that Hispanic students who did not borrow in their first year of college were more likely to drop out of college within three years than their peers who borrowed.

How colleges can support the advancement of Hispanic students

Student success can only be improved when college leaders make it a top priority. Here are some ways the institutions can help narrow the degree completion gap for Hispanic students:

  • Reduce the cost barrier. A lower price tag to a college degree will help to overcome the Hispanic community's widespread aversion to debt. The college price tag includes tuition and fees and living expenses necessary to succeed in higher ed. This study showed that of the 772 respondents who reported they dropped out of college because of cost, the hefty price of books and supplies is second only to tuition and fees in terms of financial consternation.
An example of an institution that met this challenge head-on is Lee College, a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in Baytown, Texas. By implementing BibliU’s Universal Learning, the college significantly lowered the cost of course materials for their students, of which 47% are Hispanics. They did this while also giving access to course materials on day one. 

“One of the barriers to all students is the rising cost of books and course materials. Through our partnership with BibliU, we've been able to greatly reduce these costs,” says Dr. Lynda Villanueva, President of Lee College. Dr. Villanueva is the first Hispanic, second youngest and third female in the college’s 89-year-history to hold the presidency.

  • Foster college-going cultures. Colleges play an essential role in guiding prospective Hispanic students through the complex maze of college applications. They should recognize the importance of family in Hispanic communities, and invite families to participate in the college experience. They can do this in several ways. For instance, they can host networking events for parents, guardians and siblings, and provide them with information about the college process. They can also launch mentorship programs that pair Hispanic students with faculty, staff or upper-level students who can be a resource throughout the college journey.
  • Implement retention initiatives. First-generation college students, regardless of race or ethnicity, are much less likely to complete a degree than those whose parents have a college degree. They are therefore at risk of dropping out of college. Institutions can implement early alert systems that identify at-risk students, such as Hispanic first-generation college-goers. 

A number of studies have documented the correlation between access to course materials and course completion. Hence, data on how – and if – students use their course materials can be a helpful early alert system for faculty and administrators. 

BibliU’s Universal Learning gives faculty and administrators access to a dashboard that shows student usage data. 

our partnership with BibliU is absolutely critical in ensuring that we're meeting our mission of serving our Hispanic students

“We are also beginning to use BibliU’s technology to identify students who have not accessed their books to intervene early, and to ensure that they get back on track. So our partnership with BibliU is absolutely critical in ensuring that we're meeting our mission of serving our Hispanic students,” concluded Dr. Villanueva.

Watch the short interview with Dr. Lynda Villanueva here.

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