Hispanic Students And The Virus

Financing May 2021 PREMIUM
Higher education has undergone one of its most stressful years ever.

COVID-19 has shaken most institutions. Some have even disappeared.

Human carnage among faculty and support personnel has been devastating. Higher education has cut 650,000 positions, about 1 in 10 jobs across the entire system.

Given the enormous drop in enrollment many institutions were forced to eliminate all adjunct positions, as well as some tenure track faculty. Some institutions even terminated tenured faculty members, a rare occurrence. Administrators and support staff were reduced as well. Not a single sector was spared. In a word - it has been a disaster.

Hispanics and COVID-19

Hispanics were not exempt. They suffered along with everybody else, even more so than others. Many students failed to show up, others dropped out.  Disillusioned many may never return to college. It’s a step backwards for those who struggled to have more Hispanics prepared to assume leadership roles in our society.

I focus on Hispanic students, those about to enter and those already enrolled in college.

For years studies have revealed that first generation college students, where we find most Hispanics, are extremely vulnerable if their education trajectory is disrupted. If  students skip a year after high school or if they drop out after a semester or year in college -- most of them will not return, not continue, not graduate.

That being the case, the pandemic which disrupted the dreams of so many Hispanics may well change their lives forever. And not for the better. The challenge for those trying to help them succeed is now a lot more difficult.

The national wreckage

All higher education institutions experienced enrollment declines. Students dropped out, others postponed attending. SUNY saw applications decline “20 percent, one of the largest annual decreases in the system’s 73-year history.”

Applications in the California State University system are down significantly among freshmen and transfer Hispanic students.

Community colleges, ever sensitive and attentive to their local populations, are holding their own. Once again, we see Hispanic females far out numbering male enrollment. Good for them.

Much is yet to be accomplished to encourage more young Hispanic men to pursue higher education. It is not that they lack ambition or desire. There are cultural and historical precedents at work. Males are expected to work to help the family and they take that responsibility seriously. Many seek employment right after high school. Some enter the Armed Services to earn G.I. Bill college opportunities.

Robert J. Massa, of Enrollment Intelligence Now, reports “Students are hedging their bets by applying to more colleges as a result of COVID-induced uncertainties.”

“Families are also increasingly concerned about costs and value, so applying to more colleges gives them potentially more choices or more chances of being admitted to an institution they can afford.”

Further, Massa notes “troubling but not surprising [fact] that first generation and lower income applicants are declining in number.”

He explained, “This is the group that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID and its financial impact. Institutions have a special obligation to reach out to these prospective students to encourage then to apply and to enroll. Our national workforce needs and our economy really [depends] on an educated citizenry.”

Economic effects

It is estimated that eighty-one percent of full-time higher education students were severely impacted by the virus.    

Hispanic students suffered disproportionately as Mary Ann Cooper highlighted in her “Hispanics And Blacks Hit Hardest” article.

Hispanics even reported a much higher level of food and housing problems due to the virus than did their Caucasian peers.   

Further, one in four students lost their jobs due to COVID-19. To compensate, forty-eight percent of Black and Hispanic students were much more likely to take on debt to deal with the crisis than their Caucasian counterparts who logged in at twenty-nine percent.

Students who remained enrolled, usually did so via distance learning. Although generally accepted and relatively successful, that delivery mode created new problems. Not all faculty or students adapted as well as hoped for. It was a learning experience for all.

Some Hispanic students tethered at home found they had to compete with their high school age siblings who were attending distance learning classes themselves.  Computers and other learning devices were limited and online class schedules at times conflicted with one another.  Preference was usually given to the younger students.  The result was some college students fell behind in their studies and dropped out.

In all cases the absence of the warm personal classroom experience that encourages learning was apparent. It just wasn’t the same. Remnants of the new modalities are here to stay. We will probably see a blended model in the future.

Some hope

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a long article with the headline that colleges “were scrambling to recruit Hispanic students.” Several national organizations have mobilized to help Hispanics return to college. Enhanced assistance programs are in place.

That’s fine and will be helpful. I hope we encourage students to borrow as little as possible. It is best to take a year or two longer to graduate with little debt than to graduate earlier with extraordinary debt.

Bottom line

One of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic is that higher education is now more desirous than ever to recruit Hispanic students.   

Some Hispanics, under stress and confused about financial options, are questioning the value of higher education. For others, that may be a consideration but not for Hispanics. More should attend and graduate.

Our task is to encourage students, apprise them of the vast advantages of a college education. Not only financial benefits but for the professional pathways which are available for those who graduate from college.

Forces are mobilizing to acquaint potential students with financial aid opportunities. These exists and colleges are seeking Hispanic students.

Colleges, for their part, must be particularly attentive to unique student needs. More counselors and faculty should be hired who see nurturing, personalized attention as part of their duties.

A caring classroom teacher is key to student success.

The cavalier swim or sink attitude is not acceptable. 

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