Higher Education

UnidosUS advocates for policies and programs that support better outcomes for Latinos in postsecondary education.

Latinx Student Enrollment


The average student age is 25-years-old.


70% of Latino students were the first in their family to enroll in college, compared to 48% of white students. The majority of Latino students are navigating the higher education system with less access to the information and guidance that often come from families who have firsthand knowledge of the college-going experience.


Among Latino undergraduates, 60% are women, compared to 56% of white undergraduates.


Latino students are more likely to attend school exclusively part-time than other racial or ethnic groups (37% compared to 32% of whites).

Latinx Student Enrollment (2nd Row)


Most Latino students are of Mexican or Puerto Rican descent. In 2015-16, half of all Latino students were Mexican, Mexican American, or Chicano descent (50%), while 26% were of other Hispanic descent, 12% were of Puerto Rican descent, 8% were of mixed Hispanic origin, and 4% were of Cuban descent. 


The overwhelming majority of Latino students are U.S. citizens. In 2015-16, 98% of Latino students were either U.S. citizens (89%) or U.S. residents (9%), and 2% were international. Comparatively, 97% of whites, 93% of African Americans, and 64% of Asian students were U.S. citizens. 


Undocumented students account for 2% of all students in higher education in the U.S., composed of more than 427,000 students. 48.5% of these students are Latino.  


More than half of Latino undergraduates received a Pell Grant (60%), a federal grant for low-income students to help them attend a postsecondary program, in the 2015-2016 school year.

Latinx Undergraduate Students

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Since 2000, Latinx enrollment in postsecondary education has increased by 164%—going from 1.4 million in 2000 to 3.7 million students in 2020.

Despite this increase in enrollment, in 2020, Latinos enrolled in college at a lower rate than their white peers (36%compared to 41%, respectively).

Latinos make up 20% of the 18.9 million students enrolled in postsecondary institutions.

  • Undergraduate: 3,348,800 (90%)
  • Graduate: 340,900 (9%)

Even as Latino students are accounting for more of the student body across all postsecondary institutions, Latinos have yet to reach a proportionate representation of the student population in public and private nonprofit four-year institutions.

In Fall 2020 Latinos were overrepresented at public and private for-profit two-year institutions. While Latinos represent 22% of undergraduates overall, they comprise 28% of students enrolled at public two-year institutions and 27% of those enrolled in private for-profit two-year institutions. Latinos often choose public two-year colleges because they tend to be more affordable and closer to home, but they also have lower completion and transfer rates. For-profit institutions have been shown to spend heavily on marketing and recruitment, especially in communities of color, and generally result in lower completion and higher debt and default rates.

COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Enrollment:

While we saw steep declines in enrollment in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, enrollment in 2022 seems to be stabilizing. Recent undergraduate enrollment changes from Fall 2020 to Fall 2022 show diverging trends across racial and ethnic groups, with Latino enrollment showing a slight increase.

Latinx Student Retention & Completion

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While Latinos are enrolling in postsecondary education at high rates, our community still has a significant way to go in increasing our overall degree attainment.

Roughly 37% of Latinos between the ages of 25 – 29 held an associates degree compared to 56% of white adults. And 25% of Latino adults held a Bachelor’s degree compared to 45% of white adults.

In 2019-2020, Latinos represented the second largest group earning certificates or degrees. Latinos represented 17% of all students earning degrees, compared to white (51%), Black (11%), Asian (6%), and other (14%) students.

In 2020

Degree Attainment

Completion Rate Charts

National Completion Rate

Six years after entering college in 2015, 44% of Black students and 51% of Latinx students had completed degrees compared to 69% of white students—a completion gap of more than 18 points.

Latino Trends in Higher Education Figure 5


The college completion picture gets more nuanced when looking at completion rates at two- and four-year institutions by public, private nonprofit, and for-profit status.

Latino Trends in Higher Education Figure 8 Latino Trends in Higher Education Figure 7


Me being the first one in my family, there was not a lot of guidance. I had to figure out everything and try to translate that for my parents. It was complicated, choosing a university. I wish I had help to …really think through it.” — Student in Minnesota, Following Their Dreams 

Latinx Student Debt

5.3 million

Estimates of the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) suggest there are 5.3 million Latinos holding federal student loan debt. This is likely an underestimation due to survey limitations.


In 2015-16 67% of Latino bachelor degree recipients borrowed; Latino borrowers’ average loan balance was $25,524.


Among 2015-16 Latino Associate degree recipients, 36% borrowed and among those borrowers, average loan debt was $15,778. 


On average, 91.4% of Latino Associate Degree Recipients and 69.7% of Latino Bachelor Degree recipients owed more than their original principal balance. 

Twelve years after starting college, 36% of Latino borrowers owed more than they originally borrowed.

I just don’t like owing people money. I really don’t. It just gives me anxiety … I’m kind of a prideful person. … I would just get another job or work more hours. … Money is a tricky thing. You work hard for it, so if I can work, I’m going to work. I’m not going to try to … No. It’s very unsettling for me trying to owe somebody. It’s very unsettling.” — Sofia, Dreams Interrupted 

Latino borrowers default at rates higher than their white peers. In the same cohort, Latino default rates varied by institution sector but were highest at for-profit colleges (57%) and lowest at non-profit (8%) and public institutions (35%). Factors impacting Latinos’ high default rates include challenges attaining their degree, lower earnings once they enter the workforce, and inadequate student loan counseling and servicing.


of the Latino first-time college entrants in 2011-12 defaulted on their student loans within six years of completing their degree, compared to 12% of their white peers.

It was 100% the money … I did get into my dream school, but I’m considered an international student [because of my immigration status]. They didn’t give me any money and that broke my heart. I worked so hard. I could take out private loans, but I don’t know how long I’m even going to be able to stay in the country.” — Student in Minnesota, Following Their Dreams 

UnidosUS is advocating at the federal and state levels to support better outcomes for Latinos in postsecondary education:

  • Make high-quality colleges and universities more affordable for high-need students
  • Make it simple and easy for economically disadvantaged students and parents to access and understand financial aid
  • Ensure equitable enrollment and admissions processes across all public colleges and universities
  • Increase degree attainment by investing in academic and comprehensive support programs for Latinos
  • Ensure that Latino students earn quality degrees across all institutions
  • Make student loans manageable and less of a financial risk to borrowers
  • Ensure that racial and ethnic opportunity gaps in higher education are addressed by requiring institutions to report and use student outcomes measures to improve equity
  • Diversify the teacher workforce to improve Latino student outcomes

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