Improving College Attendance in the Hispanic Community

College enrollment rates for Hispanic and Latino/a students have risen in the 21st century. But how can schools continue to improve outcomes for these students?

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated September 23, 2022

Reviewed by Laila Abdalla, Ph.D.

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Improving College Attendance in the Hispanic Community
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The Hispanic and Latino/a community has made major strides in the percentage of students going on to seek higher education. In 2011, Hispanic students became the second-most populous racial/ethnic group to seek higher education in the U.S.

The number of Hispanic college students has grown significantly in the 21st century. According to numbers reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 1.4 million Hispanic undergraduates were enrolled at U.S. colleges in 2000. That number more than doubled over the next 15 years, surpassing 3 million in 2015.

But more recently, during the pandemic, attendance dropped among these learners. How can colleges support Hispanic and Latino/a students and continue to increase attendance and degree attainment?

The History of Hispanic and Latino/a Students' College Attendance

Over the past several decades, the Hispanic community has begun to attend college at much higher rates in the U.S. In 1980, only 16% of Hispanic adults ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college. That percentage grew to 22% in 2000, 32% in 2010, and 36% in 2020, according to NCES.

But the steady increase in college attendance among these learners was halted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. From spring 2020 to spring 2021, the number of Latino/a first-year students attending college dropped nearly 8% — more than double the total enrollment drop of 3.5%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Would the gains of prior decades evaporate in the face of a global crisis? Fortunately, data from spring 2022 showed a partial rebound. Hispanic and Latino/a enrollment grew by 4% compared to the previous year, although attendance rates still have not reached pre-pandemic levels.

How to Increase Retention and Graduation Rates for Hispanic and Latino/a Students

In 2020, the percentage of Hispanic adults (ages 25 and older) in the U.S. who'd graduated from college reached an all-time high of nearly 21%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet numbers reported by UnidosUS show that Hispanic and Latino/a students still lag behind other groups in terms of retention and graduation rates.

What are the best ways to boost retention and degree attainment for Hispanic and Latino/a students?

It's important to understand the unique challenges that many Hispanic and Latino/a students face. According to 2016 data shared by the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, 44% of Latino/a undergraduates are first-generation college students. This is significantly higher than many other groups. For example, 22% of white, 29% of Asian, and 34% of Black students in 2016 were first-generation college students.

Supporting Hispanic and Latino/a students early in their academic careers can improve retention rates. Academic advising, financial aid counseling, and student services geared toward these learners and their specific experiences have a proven record of helping Latino/a students.

In addition, enrolling at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) can offer several benefits for students. These schools offer focused resources and a larger community of Hispanic and Latino/a students. In 2020, two-thirds of Latino undergraduates attended an HSI.

Mentorship opportunities and career support can also make a difference for Hispanic and Latino/a students. And recruiting more Hispanic faculty members can lead to more meaningful mentorship opportunities for students –– currently, only 6% of full-time faculty at degree-granting postsecondary institutions identify as Hispanic (NCES).

Welcoming institutions, access to relevant resources, and faculty, staff, and student representation can help Hispanic and Latino/a college students reach their academic goals.

Go to BestColleges Hispanic Heritage Month hub to find more stories and resources.

Resources and Organizations Supporting Hispanic and Latino/a Students

HACU led the effort to fund and recognize HSIs. The association represents over 500 colleges and universities. HACU also offers leadership and career programs for current college students. HSF has awarded more than $675 million in scholarships to Hispanic college students. The organization also offers knowledge and tools to help Hispanic students reach their education goals. A research and policy organization, Excelencia promotes Latino/a success in college. The organization highlights successful programs that improve Latino/a attendance and graduation. HHF runs education, leadership, and workforce development programs that support Hispanic and Latino/a students and early-career professionals. The foundation offers trainings, workshops, internships, mentorships, and fellowships. LUCA empowers low-income, first-generation Latino/a students with coaching and career planning resources. The organization supports scholars throughout their college careers to improve acceptance and graduation rates.