California Latino College Careers Cut Short by COVID-19, UnidosUS Poll Says

More than half of university students considering withdrawal from full-time education

WASHINGTON, DC—Current and former Latino college students in California, particularly student loan borrowers, are being devastated by coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey released today by UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza). More than 1.3 million Latinos are enrolled in colleges and universities in California, representing a large and growing share of students in the state’s higher education system. The findings point to troubling signs for the next generation of workers and taxpayers in California.

According to the poll, 51 percent of respondents are considering withdrawing from full-time education altogether, dealing a blow to the college attainment gains Latinos have made in recent years. Survey findings revealed that nearly half (47 percent) of current students have turned to local food banks for meals. And 65 percent of current college students with loans have reported job or income loss. The poll surveyed current California college students taking out student loans and former students who currently hold student debt.

Conducted by Latino Decisions, the poll paints a bleak picture for former and current Latino college borrowers reeling from the financial shocks of COVID-19. The effects of the fast-moving crisis have been particularly acute for Latino college-goers, who are overwhelmingly first-generation, members of mixed-status households and from low-income backgrounds. The conditions are not much brighter for college graduates; 33 percent of Latinos with college degrees now receive unemployment insurance due to income loss.

Other poll findings include:

  • 72 percent of all Latino borrowers in California have experienced job and income loss since March.
  • Student debt has prevented Latinos in California from reaching important life goals, including saving for retirement (51 percent), purchasing a home (45 percent) and finishing their degree (30 percent).
  • 55 percent of current and 57 percent of former student borrowers in California said the financial burden of their student debt was a strong motivation to vote this November.

“The economic distress brought about by COVID-19 on Latino college students is worrisome, threatens to cut short promising college careers and have a devastating impact on the future prosperity of California. No student can be expected to have success in college at the expense of feeding and caring for their families and simultaneously worrying about where their next meal will come from. We have yet to see robust relief policies that match the severity of the situation for these first-generation college goers who are the future workers of America. Young Latino voters, current and former college-goers, will go to the polls this fall with these concerns on the minds and their families in their hearts,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS.

“The high price of higher education is one reason Latino adults are less likely to hold a college degree today than White adults in 1990,” said Wil Del Pilar, Vice President of Higher Education at The Education Trust. “Among current Latino students sampled in this survey their biggest financial burden is student loan debt, followed by rent, credit card debt and groceries. It’s past time for the federal government and state leaders to make good on a debt-free college promise for students from low-income families and to guarantee no student has to mortgage their future to earn a college degree.”

About the poll: On behalf of UnidosUS, Latino Decisions interviewed N=652 Latino residents in California who are either currently college students taking student loans (N=327), or former college students who hold student loan debt (N=325). The survey was conducted August 22 – September 2, 2020. Respondents answered questions on their cell phone or landline with live callers, or via online self-responses through text or email invitations. Respondents were all randomly selected and lists deduped, so each respondent only had one opportunity to be included. The invitation and survey were both available in English or Spanish. The full sample carries a margin of error of +/- 3.8%, the subgroup samples of current and former students carry a margin of error of +/- 5.4%.

Full survey findings can be found here.