The Latino/a Educational Pipeline: Understanding the Condition of Latino/as in Higher Education

Polet Milian

Polet Milian

Natalie Gonzalez

Natalie Gonzalez

Latino/as are the fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States, increasing from 13% to 17% of the population during the past 10 years. It is important to understand that, despite the milestones made in Latino/as success, they continue to be underserved in various areas of higher education.

The Condition of Latino/as in Education: 2015 Factbook’ released by Excelencia in Education, provides snapshots of the educational pipeline for Latino/as from primary through graduate education. The report seeks to spread awareness of Latino/as in education; explores the educational disadvantages that are faced within the Latino/a community; and emphasizes the significance in increasing Latino/a student success. Following are some of the Factbook’s main themes.

Different stakeholders have played roles in increasing access and completion for Latino/a students, particularly at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). In 2012-2013, HSIs enrolled 59% of Latino/a undergraduates, and with 277 emerging HSIs, this participation is expected to increase. Note that 52% of HSIs in 2012 were community colleges and private, two-year, not-for-profit institutions.

Enrolling at a two-year-institution is not irregular, as 45% of all undergraduate students were enrolled in public two-year colleges in 2012 (American Association of Community Colleges, 2014). But a higher amount, over two-thirds of all Latino/as, were enrolled at two-year HSIs alone. In 2012, only 7% of all graduate students were Hispanic, and 5% of doctoral degrees were conferred and awarded to Latino/as students.

This participation correlates with data showing that, over the course of the past decade, more Latinos earned an associate’s degree as their highest degree compared to a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, with minimal research on the history of Latino/as in higher education, it is difficult to identify ways to increase participation in education.

Latino/as continue to fall behind in critical areas of education, such as high school graduation rates, degree attainment and positions in academia. This proves that Latino/as as a whole have a long way to go before reaching an equitable state in education. In 2011, Latino/as continued to be underrepresented among instruction and research faculty, as they accounted for only 4% of positions. Even among such a small group, 52% of the pool was employed part-time, and 68% of the Latino/a full professors were male, which highlight the inequities of gender and ethnicity in tenure positions.

A way to address and work to resolve these inequities can stem from building stronger pipelines between bachelor’s-granting HSIs and doctoral-granting institutions. Originating the pipeline from HSIs is beneficial, because although not all are the same, they may have policies and resources in place that promote engagement of Latino/a students.

As the demographics of the nation change and the Latino/a community continues to grow, there is a stronger need for Latino/a students to continue through the higher education pipeline. By 2020, 65% of jobs will require post-secondary education, with 35% of those requiring at least a bachelor’s degree (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2013). If social justice is not enough motivation, policymakers and institutions need to realize that if Latino/as are unqualified to fill the jobs the market will demand, it will bring negative financial repercussions. As HSIs continue to enroll the most Latino/a undergraduate students, there is greater urgency to develop and strengthen pipelines at these institutions that can lead to greater higher education attainment and completion.

Excelencia in Education also presents the top 25 institutions that awarded the most associate, bachelors, masters, professional and doctorate degrees to Latinos in 2012-2013. HSIs have significant presence in those disciplines, with a high of 21/25 in the associate degree category, and a low of 9/25 in the doctorate category.

Although the report highlights the presence of HSIs in the top 25 Latino degree-granting institutions for Latino/as, it does not present the role of for-profit institutions. The University of Phoenix, a for-profit-institution, is in the top three positions in associate, bachelor and masters’ degree-granting categories. For-profit institutions leave students with higher debt and increased likelihood of defaulting on loans, limiting access for students who desire to pursue additional education. As Latino/as and other traditionally marginalized communities become more vulnerable to for-profit institutions, their educational pipeline will continue to be limited.

Natalie Gonzalez and Polet Milian are master’s students in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

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