Hispanic Trends in Higher Education

President Barack Obama was clear in his Feb. 2009 address: he wants the U.S. to have the largest proportion of college graduates by 2020, and several states have jumped aboard his completion agenda.

Hispanics make up almost 17% of the nation’s population, and they are the largest minority population in the U.S. To meet this lofty college completion goal, the nation must prioritize degree attainment among Hispanics, a group statistically more likely than some races to struggle in school.

Enrollments on the Rise

A key step in increasing the educational outcomes of Hispanics is first getting them to enroll.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanic college enrollments reached a record high in 2011. More than two million 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics enrolled, which was 16.5% of all college enrollments.

Though part of these increases in enrollment can be attributed to population growth, the Pew report shows that the Hispanic high school completion rate is also increasing. In 2011, an all-time high of 76.3% of Hispanics aged 18 to 24 had a high school diploma or GED. Of this number of high school graduates, 45.6% enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges.

Experts have expressed that the number of enrollees needs to continue to increase by focusing on need-based financial aid, increasing funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and increasing the capacity for Hispanic students in higher education institutions.

Completion Gap

Though enrollment figures look promising, simply enrolling in college isn’t enough. The overall goal for the nation is to increase college attainment, which means retention and completion should be the main focuses. Hispanics are enrolling in college at record rates, but the completion gap that exists between Hispanics and their White counterparts is still an issue.

According to a report from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), only 52% of Hispanics who began a four-year college in 2003-04 earned a college degree by 2009, compared to 73% of White students, 76% of Asian students, and 66% of students of two or more races.

The Hispanic Access Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010, works to promote educational attainment among Hispanics throughout the United States. HAF’s executive director Maite Arce said one of the main challenges facing Latino students is realizing that college is possible and affordable. Through community outreach, which includes free tax education programs, providing Hispanic families with information about scholarships, and college prep fairs, HAF strives to remove some of the barriers and obstacles to college completion for Hispanics.

Schools That Are Getting it Right

According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, there are 247 Hispanic-Serving Institutions – which the HACU defines as colleges, universities, or systems/districts where total Hispanic enrollment constitutes a minimum of 25% of the total enrollment – in the U.S. These schools are an important variable in Hispanic completion rates because they enroll a significant number of Hispanic students.

Each year, HispanicBusiness.com ranks the top schools based on the percentage of Hispanic student enrollment, percentage of Hispanic faculty members, percentage of degrees conferred to Hispanics, and progressive programs aimed at increasing Hispanic enrollment.

The University of Texas at El Paso and The University of New Mexico both ranked in the 2012 HispanicBusiness list for business and engineering. The University of New Mexico was also ranked one of the best for law and medical schools. Both schools are Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

UTEP is a research institution with a campus of more than 22,600 students – a majority of them Hispanic students. The school takes pride in becoming the first national research (Tier One) university to serve a 21st century student demographic.

The University of New Mexico, located in the heart of Albuquerque, takes pride in being the only HSI in the nation that is classified as a Carnegie Research University with Very High Activity. The school serves a diverse population of students – 22,278 students on the main campus and 7,933 students at branch campuses and education centers.

The University of Texas-Pan American is located in the southernmost tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, an area whose population is 85% Hispanic. The majority of UTPA’s students is also Hispanic. In an effort to address the growth and demand of its population, UTPA recently launched an accelerated online MBA program.

“The University of Texas-Pan American works hard to provide a supportive environment for students within our high-quality academic programs,” said Cynthia Brown, UTPA’s Vice Provost for Graduate Studies. “Since such a large number of our students are first-generation college-goers, we strive to provide a variety of support systems, both academic and non-academic, so that they are successful. For example, we have a Graduate Resource Center that holds monthly workshops on academic topics as well as work-life balance and time management.”

Hispanic Faculty Trends

Some experts believe more Hispanic faculty at colleges and universities will help increase Hispanic students’ success. Brown said that UTPA has a relatively high share of Hispanic faculty compared to other universities, with Hispanics representing about 33% of total faculty in fall 2011.

“It is a national imperative to increase the educational attainment of everyone. This is especially true of the Hispanic population given its rapid growth and increasing share of the total population,” Brown said. “UTPA is very proud to be among the top universities awarding degrees to Hispanics in several fields at both the undergraduate and graduate level. This is our mission and we will continue to provide access to higher educational opportunities for Hispanic students and work to ensure their success.”

Efforts to Increase College Success

In the NCES report Projections of Education Statistics to 2021published in Jan. 2013, data shows that the projected enrollment of Hispanics in post-secondary degree-granting institutions will increase 42% by 2021. It will be imperative that those enrollments translate into degree attainment.

There are numerous organizations that are invested in the educational success of Hispanics. These are just a few of them:

  • Excelencia in Education:

    Founded in 2004, Excelencia promotes education policies and institutional practices that support Hispanic academic achievement. Excelencia collaborated with 60 national partners for the initiative The Roadmap for Ensuring America’s Future, a tool to stimulate dialogue about necessary actions for increasing Hispanic degree attainment. Excelencia also released fact sheets for each of the 50 states detailing the current status of Hispanic college attainment.

  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund:

    The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), founded in 1975, is the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting Hispanic higher education. To date, HSF has awarded more than $360 million in scholarships. Through the Generation 1st Degree initiative, HSF hopes to close the completion gap for Hispanics by helping to put at least one college degree in each Hispanic household. The HSF will provide scholarships to qualified Hispanic students who are the first in their families to attend college.

  • Hispanic Access Foundation:

    HAF was founded in 2010 to tackle several issues in the Hispanic community, including education, health, immigration, science and environment, and tax education. HAF uses out-of-school and informal education, as well as some in-school work to reach first-generation and second-generation Hispanics. HAF has identified the following education-related issues as areas to focus on: growing enrollment in public schools, high school and college graduation rates, college attendance, math and science performance, and learning the English language.

  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities:

    HACU was established in 1986 and now represents more than 400 colleges and universities committed to Hispanic higher education success in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Latin America, Spain and Portugal. In 1992, HACU was a leader in the effort to prompt Congress to formally recognize campuses with high Hispanic enrollment as federally designated HSIs and to begin targeting federal allocations to those campuses. HACU aims to promote the development of member colleges and universities and improve access to and the quality of post-secondary educational opportunities for Hispanic students.

Reaching President Obama’s completion goal is not the only benefit of focusing on success for Hispanics in higher education. Statistics show that more Hispanics are being hired for senior-level jobs. In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security employed the largest number of Hispanics at nearly 21%. The Social Security Administration and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employed the next two highest percentages at 14.1% and 13.7%, respectively.

As the U.S. becomes a more globalized society, it’s important to have a diversified and educated workforce. Increasing the number of Hispanic college graduates will certainly help their job prospects after graduation, and hiring managers looking to diversify within their companies may seek out these graduates.