Undergraduate college enrollment is down across the board, but an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights staggering statistics surrounding the decline in Hispanic Americans pursuing their degree, and the implications of their absence in higher education.
Many colleges around the country are facing the fact that Hispanic students are not coming back to class. The COVID-19 pandemic drove them away from their studies and halted a large number of Hispanic/Latino/a/x students from advancing their education.
Before the virus
For two decades, Hispanic students had been the fastest-growing demographic group enrolling in college. COVID-19 has threatened that progress.
The article points out data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, indicating that Hispanic/Latino enrollment fell 7 percent from 2019 to 2021.
New normal, new priorities
The 2020 COVID pandemic triggered mass job losses within families. Many essential workers were forced to work longer hours.
Not only was a college education already a financial reach for many, but the pandemic took up all the calendar space in a would-be student’s day.
College-aged students soon became teachers for their younger siblings who needed guidance while attending virtual school. Older relatives needed their young adult relatives to become their caregivers.
“Family responsibilities are of utmost importance in the Hispanic/Latino community, so when the pandemic hit, educational plans over the past two years have taken a backseat to family responsibilities,” says AccessU Faculty member Monica Gomez. “Although many jobs have returned, these would-be college students have decided to put off college for now, or all together in some cases because they are in many cases earning livable wages.”
As Gomez points out, it’s no surprise then that these students stopped attending college almost immediately after the COVID shutdown.
Facing the Consequences
This hiatus from college can have long-lasting domino effects.
Not just on the economic prospects of Hispanics/Latinos across the country, but for many generations in this country who can remain trapped in low-wage jobs without further education.
Federal COVID relief funding has been essential in getting students to re-enroll, but that money will soon run out. The national economy could take a significant hit from this. In a country with rising wages at entry-level food service jobs, community college doesn’t seem worth it for students trying to survive the current inflation frustrations.
However, looking at the big picture, not making this investment could be a huge long-term mistake. Research suggests that residents who don’t go to college will be worse off financially. As technology continues to advance, students without a college degree will not be qualified for jobs in emerging fields like solar energy, home health care, and education.
Community colleges have already seen dramatic dropout rates.
“In the fall of 2021, California’s community-college system sank below 2 million students for the first time in decades. Between the fall of 2020 and the fall of 2021, nearly half of the 318,000 students who dropped out were Hispanic,” details author Sarah Brown.
This kind of precipitous decline shows the spotlight that colleges need to give this issue, so it doesn’t become a permanent one.
What can colleges and universities do about it?
Community colleges have an opportunity to shine right now, by marketing vocational and technical programs that are designed to prepare students for employment, including certificate programs that won’t take as much time as traditional transfer track programs. Tactically, however, it’s more important than ever to pay close attention to context and life experience.
Marketing towards Hispanic students needs to be language and in context, starting at the high school level. Google translate won’t cut it to resonate or express that your institution is prepared to meet students’ needs. And if you’re finding that your college is unprepared in this area, now is the time for higher education institutions to invest in hiring more qualified, bilingual staff.
This can take a variety of forms, from hiring staff who can work on the front lines with prospective students and parents on a more relatable and understandable level to hiring peer mentors to work with students, especially those who may be struggling once they return to school. Professional academic advisors and student success coaches should be available for regular check-ins to help students remain on track and get high school students through the process when transitioning to university life.
Moreover, the marketing tools created to support staff in these positions need to be digitally literate. A prospective college student may not read this blog, because they’re scrolling elsewhere, on places like Instagram and TikTok. If these students aren’t coming to college like they used to, the colleges need to go to them. Listening and learning from your target demographics by reading the comments and looking for trends on social media platforms will help leaders in higher education better understand their audience.
Hispanic Students may be missing, but this does not mean they cannot be found.