Anti-DEI policies, wage disparities may hinder Latine academic, economic success

Latina enrollment has been rising steadily, but wage disparities and anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies are stalling progress, according to a new data brief from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a report from NBC News

Latina women are more likely than Latino men to hold a bachelor’s degree, regardless of the age group, country of origin, veteran status, or English proficiency, with the number of Latinas with a bachelor’s degree or higher rising from almost 1 million in 2000 to 3.5 million in 2021. The percentage of Latina adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher nearly quadrupled from 5.4% in 2000 to 20% in 2021, and the rate of Latinas obtaining degrees grew faster than for Latino males and the overall male and female populations. The number of Latine adults with advanced degrees has also grown the fastest than any other racial or ethnic group, a rise driven by Latinas, according to the Pew Research Center.

Related: Over half of Latine students considered leaving college last year >

Education and economic disparities

Despite these trends, Latinas’ bachelor’s degree attainment or higher (20%) lagged behind the overall U.S. population in 2021 (33%) and overall female attainment (35%), the brief shows. College-educated Latinas also experienced wage disparities after graduation. In 2021, Latinas with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a median wage of $26—the second lowest of all workers by race, ethnicity, and sex—$6 less per hour than similarly college-educated Latino men and $14 less than similarly educated white men.

Related: Report: Racial, gender gaps persist despite degree attainment gains >

“Our hope at UCLA LPPI is that by understanding the nuances of [Latinas’] lived experiences, and how that impacts their likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree, then we can implement policy solutions empowering Latinas to improve their well being and quality of life,” co-author and LPPI’s senior research analyst Misael Galdámez tells NBC News.

Eliminating campus support

Meanwhile, NBC News reports that anti-DEI policies that erode campus support for underrepresented students may exacerbate the structural barriers to higher education and economic mobility faced by Latine students. Under Texas law Senate Bill 17 (SB 17), all public Texas colleges and universities must close their diversity, equity, and inclusion offices or lose state funding. The law also mandates that every two years through 2029, state officials must conduct studies to measure how the law impacts application rate, acceptance rate, matriculation rate, retention rate, grade point average, and graduation rate of students at institutions of higher education, disaggregated by race, sex, and ethnicity. Other states have passed similar anti-DEI laws that are pushing public universities to close offices that once served Latine students and other historically underrepresented groups.

Related: How state anti-DEI laws are impacting LGBTQ+ students >

To comply with SB 17, the University of Texas at Austin, which qualified as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2021, closed its Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) and defunded its Latinx Community Affairs organization, which depended on MEC for resources and support. Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, and the University of Houston also shuttered their DEI offices to adhere to state law. The move affected programs aimed supporting currently enrolled Latine students and may threaten efforts that recruit Latine students and engage with their communities. 

“We provided ways for [Latine students] to meet people that could give them jobs after they graduate, but now we don’t have funding to put on [those events],” Liany Serrano, a Latinx Community Affairs leader who helped organize networking events and career workshops for Latine students, tells NBC News. “They’re going to miss making those connections.”

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