Completion gap widens for Latino students


Degree completion gaps between Latino and White, non-Hispanic students have increased in the last four years as Latino graduation rates have barely budged, according to a new analysis of federal data by Excelencia in Education.

The gap is smaller at two-year institutions than at four-year institutions, but it grew between 2018 and 2021 from two to five percentage points, according to the report. The gap expanded at four-year institutions from 12 to 13 percentage points.

Since 2018, the graduation rate for White, non-Hispanics increased at both two-year institutions (from 35% to 38%) and four-year institutions (from 63% to 65%). But the rate for Latinos over the same period didn’t change at two-year institutions (33%) and increased slightly at four-year institutions (from 51% to 52%).

The analysis, which examined data from the U.S. Education Department and U.S. Census Bureau, also shows that Latino students are more likely to no longer be enrolled in college than their White peers. At two-year institutions, 45% of Latino students were no longer enrolled at any institution after three years, compared to 38% of White, non-Hispanic students in 2021. At four-year institutions, 31% of Latino students were no longer enrolled at any institution after six years, compared to 20% of White, non-Hispanic students in 2021.

“Acceleration is not happening for Latino student success in a way that we need [it] to,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia, which focuses on improving Latino student success.

Credential attainment among Latinos — the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the U.S. that already comprises one-fifth of the country’s population — is critical for the country’s economy, which increasingly demands an educated and skilled workforce, Excelencia officials said. Yet, despite significant increases over the past decade, Latino adults are falling behind in attaining degrees compared to White, Black and Asian adults in the U.S. Just 30% of Latino adults 25 years of age and older had earned an associate degree or higher in 2022, compared to 53% of White, non-Hispanic, 39% of Black, and 66% of Asian adults.

Study the student profile

During a Zoom press call on Tuesday, Excelencia officials observed the challenges that many Latino students continue to face, noting they are more likely to be the first in their families to attend college. Many of them are what Excelencia calls “post-traditional students,” meaning they may enroll more part-time, need academic remediation, work while attending college and take longer to attain a credential.

College leaders, politicians and policymakers should note that these students will need different types of services to succeed. Santiago said the median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 31, compared to 43 for Whites. And in the K-12 pipeline, Latino students comprise more than a quarter (26%) of students.

“Paying attention to the pathway and the pipeline of who is in education today and is ready for college is an important way of looking at this,” Santiago said.

Excelencia officials also noted the data show continued gaps based gender, especially for males. Nearly one-quarter (26%) of Hispanic males have an associate degree or higher, compared to one-third (33%) of Hispanic females, Santiago said. Also, the 26% rate for Hispanic males falls below the average of 46% of males having an associate degree or higher.

“This is a real challenge,” said Santiago, noting that high-paying jobs are prompting many students, especially males, to pause their higher education as a result.

A look at state rates

Excelencia also examined data on Latino college degree-earners based on states. Not surprisingly, the top institutions enrolling and awarding undergraduate degrees to Latinos were in California, Florida and Texas. Miami Dade College (MDC) led all institutions with a Hispanic 2021-22 enrollment of 28,583 students — representing almost three-fourths (72%) of the college’s total enrollment of 39,727. Lone Star College (LSC) in Texas had the fourth-highest Hispanic enrollment, with 21,610, or 44% of its 49,093 total enrollment.

Among associate-degree granting institutions, MDC, Dallas College, South Texas College, LSC and Valencia College (Florida) had the most Hispanic students earning degrees in 2020-21, respectively. (See chart, above.)

Excelencia observed that member colleges of its Presidents for Latino Student Success program were especially effective in enrolling and graduating Latinos. The network represents just 5% of all colleges and universities, but it enrolled 31% and graduated 33% of all Latino students in 2022, Excelencia said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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