Supporting Latinos’ economic well-being through higher education

by Deborah Santiago and Janette Martinez

At a time that’s ripe for policy change — due to the continuing health pandemic and the longstanding epidemic of systemic inequities — it’s time for policymakers to act boldly while keeping Latino students front of mind. This is why today, Excelencia in Education released our policy agenda to inform the ongoing conversations around higher education, specifically with a Latino lens.

Latinos have been significantly hit by the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. About 1 in 5 Latinos lost a job or were furloughed, and almost half of Latinos lost work hours, resulting in a decrease in income. And Latinos are disproportionally represented among COVID-19 cases and deaths. Returning to the status quo is not enough to support Latino student success or help our country recover from the pandemic. Indeed, policymakers must keep the Latino community top of mind, including when it comes to improving higher education.

Excelencia’s policy agenda advocates for policies to increase degree attainment and close equity gaps to accelerate Latino student success based on the current educational realities. In working with practitioners this past year, four issues were continually front and center in their daily efforts to support Latino student success: 1) affordability, 2) institutional capacity, 3) retention and transfer, and 4) workforce preparation.

Policy must keep up with the evolving challenges and opportunities to serve students. To meet our mission of accelerating Latino student success, we must increase degree attainment and close equity gaps. An overview of why we chose these issues for our policy agenda and how to address them is below.

Affordability

Many Latino students adjust their attendance patterns to fit into a financial aid system not built for them. Now, the pandemic has resulted in decreased incomes, making it harder to pay for college. Policymakers must revisit federal financial aid distribution, increasing federal aid to students, and simplifying the financial aid system could all benefit Latino students.

Institutional capacity

Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) enroll the overwhelming majority of Latino students, yet are low-resourced and face further budget cuts in the midst of an economic recession. Equitably distributing funding to HSIs, refocusing and refining Title V grant activities, and improving information would improve these institutions’ capacity to serve Latino students.

Retention and transfer

Latinos are not supported through the postsecondary pathways because they do not follow a traditional pathway — entering postsecondary education right after high school and graduating in four years from the institution where they first enrolled. Given the disproportionate vulnerability of Latinos because of the pandemic, these pathways are being further disrupted. By improving student data availability, providing financial incentives to retain Latino students and support transfer efforts, and ensuring access to reliable internet, policymakers can address college pathways to ensure Latino student degree completion.

Workforce preparation

The pandemic has shown that Latinos are overrepresented in the workforce but in jobs that are vulnerable and lower in pay. Policymakers can support social mobility for Latino students and their successful transition to the workforce by leveraging existing federal programs to support experiential learning, making workforce development an allowable grant for Title V activities, and incentivizing engagement between employers and HSIs.

Read Excelencia’s complete policy agenda on our website.

Excelencia informs, leads, & accelerates Latino student success in higher education through research, evidence-based practices, and leadership.