To boost Latine enrollment, colleges need to meet students’ financial needs

Latine students across various education levels want to enroll in college and believe in the value of higher education, but financial hurdles are preventing them from seeing it as a viable option, according to a national poll conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Respondents contacted by the Chronicle said high college costs and lack of information about financial aid, loans, and grants make it difficult to access higher education.

Believing in the value of education

When polled, 75% of Latine respondents with no more than a high school diploma said they considered attending college, compared to 60% of white respondents with that level of education. Latine respondents with some college or less were also more than twice as likely (66%) than their white counterparts (28%) to say they’d take college courses at some point.

Latine respondents were also more likely (at 19%) than white respondents (at 5%) to say college did an “excellent” job of producing educated citizens, and to agree that colleges did an “excellent” job at “leveling the playing field for success in society”—14% versus 5%. In response to the poll’s open-ended questions, Latine respondents included socioeconomic and professional advancement and expanding perspectives as some of the benefits of a college education.

Barriers to college

Between Fall 2009 and Fall 2019, Latine undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions surged 48%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. After seeing pandemic-era declines, Latine undergraduate enrollment rose 4.2% between Fall 2022 and Fall 2023, but college costs remain an obstacle to enrollment and degree completion.

In the Chronicle survey, 76% of Latine respondents who had not taken college courses cited affordability as a reason for not attending college, compared to 62% of white respondents. 

Scholarships may not always meet Latine students’ needs, Deborah A. Santiago, chief executive of Excelencia in Education, tells the Chronicle. “Affordability is not just defined as tuition, fees, and room and board for the Latino community.” To help students with financial need, colleges must also ensure students can afford transportation and basic needs, such as food, health care, and housing.  

Related: Federal study highlights food, housing insecurity among college students >

Latine families also have less wealth than their white counterparts, making college a more challenging pathway to a career. A 2019 U.S. Treasury Department report found that the median wealth of white families was $184,000, compared to $38,000 and $23,000 for Latine and Black families, respectively. Some Latine families who are hesitant to take out student loans out of fear of going into debt are “coming from cash economies,” Santiago says, “so borrowing and taking out a loan from a bank requires financial literacy and awareness that we haven’t had historically.”

To bridge that knowledge gap, advocates say colleges should begin explaining financial-aid packages—which typically include a combination of scholarships, loans, grants, and work study—much earlier in the admissions process to Latine students and their families, as well as offer those explanations in Spanish.

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