Washington Watch: Los colegios comunitarios celebran a los estudiantes Latinx

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As far as educational achievements of Hispanics/Latinx, there is much to celebrate this National Hispanic Heritage Month. Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s former education commissioner with Puerto Rican roots, is now the U.S. education secretary.

Hispanics/Latinx have made great strides in their educational attainment. In 2020, the percent of Hispanics/Latinx ages 25 to 29 who have at least a high school degree reached 90%, increasing more than 20% since the prior decade. The percent earning an associate degree or higher almost doubled between 2010 and 2020 (20% to 37%).

Role of community colleges

Community colleges play an oversized role in the education of Hispanic/Latinx undergraduates.

In fall 2019, almost 30% of community college students were Hispanic/Latinx. The top five institutions conferring associate degrees to Hispanic/Latinx students in 2017-18 were community colleges. Overall, almost 90% of Hispanic/Latinx associate degree recipients earned it at a community college. This should not be surprising as community colleges represent a substantial portion of Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).

In academic year 2019-2020, there were a total of 569 HSIs, federally defined as a public or private non-profit institution with a full-time equivalent undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment of at least 25%. There were 235 (41%) public two-year HSIs, which represents an undercount of community colleges, however. There are many more HSI community colleges in the public four-year category, especially in California, Florida and Texas, which offer one or more bachelor’s degree program. 

Community colleges, defined as both two- and four-year primarily associate-degree-granting institutions, comprise 70% of current (new and continuing) Title V grantees. The purpose of Title V competitive grant programs is to strengthen institutions serving Hispanic and other low-income students. Increasing institutional aid programs funding, such as Title V, is a top priority of the American Association of Community Colleges. In FY2020, 118 new grants, most to community colleges, were awarded totaling more than $69 million.

Key facts about Hispanic/Latinx populations

The U.S. Hispanic/Latinx population represents the largest minority group. The population grew to 62.1 million in 2020, up from 50.5 million in 2010, accounting for more than half the increase in the overall U.S. population in this decade.

The increase in the Hispanic/Latinx population was driven more by newborns than immigration beginning in the 2000s and accelerating since 2010.

Between 2010 and 2020, all states and the District of Columbia experienced an increase in the Hispanic/Latinx population. Three of those states, Texas, California and Florida, had the highest increase of one million or more Hispanics/Latinx.

While those with Mexican roots represent the highest percent of the Hispanic/Latinx population (61.5% in 2019), the origins of the remainder vary from Argentina to Venezuela. 

This is relevant because National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated September 15 through October 15, is intended to  observe the histories, cultures, achievements and contributions of Americans whose origins are in Spanish-speaking countries located in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America, Mexico and Spain.

Behind the aggregate numbers

Despite the focus being on the diversity of Hispanic/Latinx peoples, all too often what we know about their experiences and contributions is through a homogenous lens. Information on college enrollment and educational attainment is no different.

Getting granular with respect to the Hispanic/Latinx population is important not only to celebrate diversity, but to appropriately and effectively address equity and inclusion in higher education.

Some inroads are being made in disaggregating educational attainment of the Hispanic/Latinx population. Lumina Foundation’s A Stronger Nation project, aimed at tracking the country’s progress toward a goal of 60% attainment, has a tool that can track attainment at the national and state levels, between 2009 and 2019 for two sets of groups, those in the 25-34 and 25-64 age ranges, as well as race and ethnicity.

Within the Hispanic category, a further breakdown is available based on country of origin. The results for the 25-64 age group show that educational attainment in 2019, defined as having earned a certificate or degree, vary. At one end are those with Venezuela roots, who have a 69% attainment rate and at the other end, those of Guatemalan origin with a 15% attainment rate.

About the Author

Jolanta Juszkiewicz
is director of policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.