UnidosUS advocates for policies and programs that support better outcomes for Latinos in postsecondary education.
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.
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.
Completion Rate Charts
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Publications & Resources
- Factsheets (series of 6): Latino Policy Priorities for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act (Sept 2019) – access, accountability, college completion, rising cost, student borrower, and teacher diversification
- Report: Following Their Dreams in an Inequitable System: Latino Students Share Their College Experience (August 2020)
- Factsheet: National Higher Education (Sept 2020)
- Policy Agenda: A Path Forward for Latinos: Laying the Groundwork for Equity in Higher Education (December 2020)
- Examples of Student Success Programs for Latinx Students (August 2021). This resource outlines institutional evidence-based programs targeted at Latinx students at two-and four-year colleges and universities.
- Supporting Latinos in Higher Education: Priorities for Reconciliation (September 2021)
- Dreams Interrupted: A Mixed-Methods Study Assessing Latino College Completion (September 2021) – a qualitative companion to the quantitative findings of the report “Debt, Doubt, and Dreams: Understanding the Latino College Completion Gap,” providing a more compelling understanding of Latinos’ hesitancy to take on educational debt.
- Executive Summary
- Factsheet: Latino Trends in Higher Education (July 2022) – In this fact sheet, UnidosUS provides an update on Latino higher education trends two years into the pandemic.
- Topic Brief: Supreme Court Ruling Must Lead to Action to Advance Opportunity in Postsecondary Education: Equity in Access to Higher Education Is—and Should Remain—a Core Value (July 2023)
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