This year’s annual recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month comes as educational attainment among Hispanics in America is growing exponentially. According to findings released by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five college students ages 18 to 24 identify as being of Hispanic origin – up from one in ten in 2005. This progress is remarkable, as it means Latinos are shifting the paradigm and can achieve what older generations were not able to.
When pondering the significance of Hispanic Heritage Month, what first comes to mind is resilience that goes beyond the contributions and achievements Latinos have made to this country. As someone who migrated to the United States of America at age 14, I know first-hand what resilience meant to my family. Like many other immigrant families, it meant leaving it all behind to start over in the unknown. For us, education was at the forefront because it implied a better life, making the pursuit of higher education my only choice.
As the Hispanic population has grown in the U.S., so has its educational attainment, as noted by the U.S. Census report. This growth and progress translate to Hispanics being primed to close the opportunity gap, change the future outlook of the workforce, and fill future roles to build strong economic standing. Hispanics are also younger, with the majority aged 25 to 34, resulting in a large college-age population. However, the Census also noted, “for many Hispanic people in the U.S., educational milestones are recent events.” This fact underscores the critical need for higher education institutions to further their understanding of how to retain Hispanic students by meeting their needs to keep up their pace of achievement, from enrollment to graduation and beyond.
At DeVry, we recognize the profound, positive impact and potential that Hispanic students bring to our institution, the talent pipeline, and the workforce, and we provide them with programs, tools, and resources that help them feel empowered to thrive in their endeavors.
Hispanic students’ experiences can vary widely based on individual circumstances and cultural background, However, like any other cultural or ethnic group, they share common needs and challenges when navigating higher education that strong retention strategies can help resolve.
Cultural Adjustment, Affinity, and Advocacy
Often, Hispanic students face challenges while adapting to a new academic environment, cultural norms, and social dynamics, especially if they are first-generation college students or have recently immigrated. Moreover, an absence of role models in academia can make it difficult for students to envision successful pathways. Access to cultural organizations, events, and support networks can be crucial for Latino students to feel connected and empowered. With this in mind, the NextGen Hispanic Scholars Program was established at DeVry and provides access to educational, community, and mentorship resources to help Hispanic, Latino, Latina, and Latinx students.
Limited Access to Financial Aid and Opportunities
Limited access to resources such as financial aid can also impact academic success at four-year institutions. One of the most consistent obstacles for Latino students has been a lack of financial aid resources, according to collegescholarships.org. A Pew Research Center survey found Hispanic adults (52%) were more likely than those who are White (39%) or Black (41%) to say a major reason they didn’t graduate from a four-year college is that they couldn’t afford it. Pew also found Hispanics are more likely than other students to avoid taking on debt, while UnidosUS noted that a complex financial aid application can pose barriers, especially for low-income and first-generation students.
Furthermore, barriers also exist to engaging in opportunities such as internships and apprenticeships, which would enhance Hispanic students’ academic and career prospects. This is why the NextGen Hispanic Scholars Program provides learners with financial resources and performance badges to share on their resumes with potential employers. To date, the program has enrolled over 1,000 scholars since 2022.
First-Generation Challenges, Language Barriers, and Mental Health
For students who are non-native English speakers, language barriers can affect their classroom participation, comprehension, and communication with peers and professors. Many Hispanic students are the first in their families to attend college, which can lead to unique challenges in understanding the higher education system, academic expectations, and career paths. The stressors of higher education, combined with other personal and cultural factors, can affect Hispanic students’ mental health and well-being. This is among the reasons why DeVry offers a free mental health resource to students when they feel in need of expert guidance for coping when under stress.
Impact of Well-Rounded Retention Strategies
Education is providing Hispanics with future opportunities and rising prosperity. However, despite achieving record college enrollment over the last few decades, challenges to this progress exist. For instance, Excelencia in Education found that a gap in college completion rates between Hispanics and their white peers has increased since 2018. Higher education institutions should examine, develop, and strengthen their retention strategies to meet Latino students where they are.
Every year during Hispanic Heritage Month, the country celebrates the contributions Latinos have made to this nation; however, it should serve as a reminder that we need to support the education and careers of Latinos all year round because when we do, we grow and prosper together. •
About the author:
Veronica Calderon is the Chief Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity Officer at DeVry University.