Study: Only 1 in 3 Latino College Students Earn a Degree

Report details challenges of Latinos in transitioning to higher education


Costa Mesa, CA (March 9, 2012) —

One of the critical issues in higher education is the low numbers of Latino students who enroll, persist and graduate. In fact, only one in three Latinos receives either a two- or four-year degree or certificate after eight years. And, while the percentage of Latinos enrolled in higher education immediately after high school grew from 1972–2004, the percentage of White students doing likewise was larger.

These findings and others come from Challenges for Latino Students in Transitioning to Higher Education: Findings and Recommendations, a presentation delivered at the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) annual conference on March 9, 2012. The presentation was given by John W. Young, Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Higher Education Research Group at Educational Testing Service (ETS).

"Part of the problem stems from the concentration of Latino students in two-year colleges," Young said. "In 2010, 44 percent of Latino students were enrolled in two-year colleges. In contrast, only 27 percent of White students were similarly enrolled. This would not be a problem in and of itself, but while most Latino students enrolling in a two-year college express the intention of obtaining a four-year degree, few do so."

An example of this transfer gap was shown in a study of students enrolled in the California community college system. Of the 27,000+ first-year students enrolled, less than 2 percent completed the requirements to transfer to either the University of California or California State University.

Young noted that two-year colleges could increase the number of students who successfully transfer by:

  • promoting coursework that prepares students for transfer
  • fostering expectations of transfer among students
  • training counselors to be more familiar with the transfer process
  • encouraging more outreach from selective four-year colleges

Young added that a number of factors contribute to this trend and that quality of academic preparation does not account entirely for the selectivity of institutions that Latino students choose. Many are academically prepared but choose not to attend the most selective colleges for which they are qualified."This is called 'undermatching,' a phenomenon common among students with lower family incomes and lower levels of parental education. Undermatching is also influenced by social factors and access to cultural capital," Young said. "Latino parents have high aspirations, but also encourage their children to remain close to the family and community."

Young indicated that students who transition to four-year institutions do surprisingly well. Another finding he noted is that Latino students expected lower financial returns for a four-year degree than other high school graduates. However, evidence suggests that the true earnings premium is as large for Latino students, particularly for Latinas.

Besides the recommendations for two-year colleges above, Young also provided suggestions for high schools and four-year colleges for improving the enrollment, persistence and graduation of Latino students:

High Schools

  • ensure that all students are college and career ready through rigorous academic preparation
  • implement programs that show efficacy in reducing dropout rates, particularly among minority students
  • develop programs for leadership development and encourage participation (the same for extracurricular activities)
  • encourage students to aspire to selective colleges

Four-Year Colleges

  • implement programs to foster the development of noncognitive traits, including academic goal setting; time management and study skills; resilience; grit; and academic and social adjustments to college
  • develop and implement programs that lead to greater success for Latino students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors
  • encourage aspirations for graduate school

In addition to Young's presentation, ETS sponsors AAHHE's annual Doctoral Dissertation Competition, and is joining the organization in honoring four winners at the conference. ETS also sponsors the annual Latino Success Institute, the findings of which appear in Perspectivas, a policy brief published by AAHHE, the University of Texas at San Antonio and ETS.


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