The Hispanic population in the US is expected to account for 29% of the population by 2060. This group’s recent growth makes them the nation’s largest minority.
And naturally, this increase is reflected in the number of Hispanics now pursuing higher education. Between 2000 and 2015, the college-going rate among Hispanic high school graduates grew from 22% to 37%.
So what does this mean?
Well, colleges are now more incentivised than ever before to pay closer attention to lingering achievement gaps between their white and Hispanic students. As well as the challenges Hispanic students face at institutions that historically catered to mostly white students. To name just a few: the bureaucracy of higher education admissions, affording tuition and thriving in an environment where so few teachers, administrators and students look like them.
Zooming out on the wider education landscape; the number of Hispanic-serving institutions in America has also jumped. In 1994, there were only 189 HSIs in the country. As of 2019-2020, there are 569 of them. A further 362 coined ‘Emerging HSIs’.
Why is this happening?
Reason one. The demographics are changing.
The Hispanic/Latino student population has increased by 441.7% since 1976. In the same time, the White/Caucasian demographic has decreased by 34.5%.
In simple terms, catering to a white-only student population isn’t a smart business move (not even to mention, morally dubious) as the market is shrinking. The opportunity to survive the enrollment cliff of 2025 and beyond is to cater for the generation of future students. So it’s unsurprising that this drive and motivation to serve minority groups is happening. Widespread.
Reason two. Many of the now Hispanic-serving institutions didn’t start out with the intention to serve these students. They became Hispanic-serving when the Latino population organically grew in the institution's catchment area. It is therefore critical that institutions particularly acknowledge the makeup of their unique student body and ensure they are serving all groups accordingly.
“You can’t just enroll them if you’re not going to help them graduate. The only growth population is Hispanics. So we’re saying you have got to focus on what it means to serve.”
- Deborah Santiago, Excelencia in Education, an advocacy group focused on Latino students.
The takeaway here is that the market is becoming increasingly competitive and Hispanic students are gaining more decision-making power, choosing only the institutions that speak to them as individuals. In other words, you’re going to have to step up your game if you want to attract the best Latino students.
Here are four ways to ensure you future-proof your institution and cater to this growing demographic:
1. Understand the struggles and reality Hispanic students face
Nearly half of Hispanic students are the first in their family to go to college, with about 70% of Hispanic undergraduates in higher education coming from families in the bottom half of earners. Almost one in two are eligible for federal Pell Grants, reserved for those only in high financial need.
These figures are comparable to the black population, where nearly 75% of students come from the bottom half of earners. Meanwhile, about two in three white students come from the top half of earners. While just one in five white students was first-generation, and only one in three qualified for Pell Grant money.
The picture that this paints? That these financial strains can make surviving college especially difficult for Latino students.
Nationwide, the proportion of Hispanics who graduate within six years is still 10 percentage points lower than the proportion of whites. The proportion who graduate in four years is nearly 14 percentage points lower. Institutions must therefore do more to improve attainment and graduation rates.
Which brings us to our second point…
2. Are you sure your admission processes are inclusive?
If your admission and enrollment process is covered in bureaucratic and admin-heavy red tape, only offered in English, how inclusive really is your institution?
We know that Hispanic students are likely to be first-generation undergraduates, so you cannot assume they’ll have experienced family to help them through the process. Do your teams offer assistance for Pell Grant applications, sponsorship and bursaries? What do your community outreach programs look like? How are you confirming to your prospective Hispanic students that your institution is accessible and simply, possible?
One stellar example of this accessibility work in practice is Northeastern University and its El Centro satellite campus. They offer dedicated programs for Latinos, including a recent "Festivals de FAFSA," a workshop geared toward helping Spanish-speaking students and families fill out federal forms necessary for financial aid. There are also classes during nontraditional hours in the evenings and weekends for students whose jobs may prevent them from attending classes during the day.
And it doesn't stop there; they also offer Proyecto Pa'Lante, a further support program geared toward Hispanic students who need help learning the basics of academic life. For example, understanding which classes on their timetable count towards their degrees.
"We as a country will only be as successful as we are able to provide the best quality levels of education for this population that historically has not been well served by higher education."
- Antonio R. Flores, president/CEO, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
3. Ensure your institution is representative of society
Another way to serve this historically underserved demographic is to employ and empower those who have already walked their walk. That know first-hand the struggles, experiences and challenges of living life as a minority.
At colleges across the country, three in four full-time professors are white. Not even 5% are Hispanic. We know that the Hispanic population in the US is growing exponentially, so this academic staff makeup simply does not reflect the modern student body. To better serve this dynamic group of students, their voices must be heard at the higher levels of education and management.
"We are all about trying to provide and broaden access to those who have been historically underserved, to provide them leadership opportunities, and then to promote the next Hispanic leaders across the country,"
says Kimberly Andrews Espy, the University of Texas at San Antonio, a HIS since 1994.
The institutions that do the best job of attracting and recruiting Hispanic students are those mindful of the experiences that they are bringing to the table. They’ll try to meet students in their communities and offer orientation materials in both Spanish and English.
The role of Hispanic Serving Institutions will continue growing in importance in the higher education landscape as the demographic makeup of the US continues to shift over the next decade. What are you doing to ensure your institution is ready and prepared for this?
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