ERIC Identifier: ED459038
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Nevarez, Carlos
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Mexican Americans and Other Latinos in Postsecondary Education:
Institutional Influences. ERIC Digest.
The increasing Latino population in the United States, and in particular the
western states, calls for a response from postsecondary institutions to increase
participation and graduation outcomes of Mexican American and other Latino
students. The Latino population has grown dramatically in recent years, now
comprising 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population, with Mexican Americans
making up 58 percent of all Latinos (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Unfortunately,
this increase is not evident in the proportional representation of Mexican
Americans and other Latinos in postsecondary education.
In 1998, while the White, non-Latino college participation rate was 67.3
percent, the calculated rate for Latinos was 47.5 percent, the lowest rate since
1990 (Postsecondary Education Opportunity, 1999). More than half of Latino
undergraduates attend two-year institutions, compared to only one third of White
students (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Research has shown that students who attend
two-year colleges are less likely to attain a baccalaureate degree (Bernstein
& Eaton, 1994). In 1998 Latinos represented 9.6 percent of undergraduate
students and 5.4 percent of graduate students (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
Current and past education policy approaches to increasing postsecondary
access, while able to increase enrollments incrementally, have been largely
ineffective in addressing issues of persistence and degree attainment. According
to Ruppert (1997), "Under such policies, postsecondary enrollments have
increased overall; yet the rate of progress for certain groups has been uneven
and the 'gap' between rates of enrollment and rates of completion remains
stubbornly wide" (p. 8). In 1998 the percentages of all degrees conferred by
colleges and universities that were received by Latino students were as follows:
associate degree--7.7 percent; bachelor's--5.5 percent; master's--4.1 percent;
doctorate--3.2 percent; and first-professional--4.6 percent (National Center for
Education Statistics [NCES], 2001a). In all, only about 7 percent of Mexican
Americans (11 percent of Latinos) over the age of 25 hold college or graduate
degrees, compared to 25 percent of the total population (U.S. Census Bureau,
Clearly, Mexican Americans and other Latinos in postsecondary education have
not been keeping pace proportionate with their growth in numbers among the
general population. The research literature provides clues about institutional
and other factors that may facilitate or hamper the academic success of Latinos.
This Digest focuses on factors that could be addressed by secondary and
postsecondary institutions: (a) secondary school preparation, (b) postsecondary
institutional climate, (c) financial aid and tuition, and (d) access to
SECONDARY SCHOOL PREPARATION
Before Mexican Americans and
other Latinos reach the milestone of high school graduation, many leave school.
Between 1980 and 1999, the percentage of Blacks age 25 and over with a high
school diploma increased by 25.8 percent (to 77 percent); the increase for
Whites was 15.5 percent (to 84.3 percent); but for Latinos, with so much ground
to make up, less progress was made: only an increase of 12.1 percent (to 56.1
percent) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
"Minority students do not have the opportunity to learn" in many school
districts, explains Adam (1999, p. 23). Documented statistics give credibility
to those words: The competency levels in high school for all subjects are lower
for Latinos than for Whites. Based on National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP) scores in 1999, Latino 17-year-olds scored lower than their
White counterparts in reading, science, and mathematics (NCES, 2001b). However,
compared with 1996 scores, Latino students made gains in all three of these
areas, while Blacks experienced slight decreases in all three areas and Whites
had slight decreases in science and reading.
Studies have shown that the school "success" of Latinos has been influenced
by the following factors across all educational levels: the institutional
commitment (of teachers, administrators, staff, and parents) to help Latino
students succeed academically (Lucas, Henze, & Donato, 1990; Richardson
&de los Santos, 1989); and the presence of faculty role models, mentors, and
peer support groups (Abi-nader, 1990; Achor & Morales, 1990; Gandara, 1994;
Halcon, 1989). According to one study, K-12 programs that boost college
attendance among underrepresented youth employ at least one of six components:
counseling, academic enrichment, parental involvement, personal enrichment and
social integration, mentoring, and scholarships (NCES, 2001c).
POSTSECONDARY INSTITUTIONAL CLIMATE
The academic and social
climate in higher education institutions can support or hinder positive academic
outcomes for Mexican American and other Latino students. Because of its
influence on learning, persistence, and completion, it is necessary to know the
character of an institution's climate, and how Latino students experience it
(Tinto, 1997). Underrepresented groups on campuses often experience segregation,
discrimination, and cultural incongruence in predominantly White colleges
(Fiske, 1988; Gloria & Robinson-Kurpius, 1996). During the past decade,
college campuses have struggled with "hate incidents." Between the fall of 1986
and the winter of 1990, the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence
reported that about 20 percent of minority students experienced some form of
bias attack during an academic year (Sidel, 1994). In 1999, more than 2,000
"hate crimes," defined as "an offense against persons or property motivated by
hate or bias against a victim based on race, ethnicity, national origin,
religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation," were reported on campuses
across the United States (Office of Postsecondary Education, 2001, p. 10). As a
result of noninclusive academic climates, Mexican American and other Latino
students are often perplexed by the feeling they must choose between their
cultural community and the campus community (Gloria & Pope-Davis, 1997).
This incongruence brings about stress that too often results in students doing
poorly in their academic work or, even worse, dropping out.
Institutions concerned with improving the social climate and making it more
congruent with the lives of Latino students have provided special programs,
services, and dedicated physical facilities (e.g., multicultural centers, and
tutoring and mentoring centers) to help students retain their sense of cultural
identity and move past discomforting experiences of isolation, segregation, and
alienation. Once students find a reasonable sense of "belonging," their chances
of persisting through college improve. How can institutions better facilitate
this sense of belonging? One key way is for institutions to reach proportional
racial/ethnic representation (Richardson & de los Santos, 1989).
FINANCIAL AID AND TUITION
There is ample evidence that
student financial aid programs positively influence college participation and
completion rates. For example, Manski and Wise (1983) calculated that "college
enrollment was 20 percent higher in 1979 with the Pell Grant program than it
would have been without it" (p. 24). They also found that the "increased rate
was primarily because of the enrollment of low-income underrepresented students" (p. 24). The type of financial aid available to students is crucial to retention
and completion for underrepresented students. According to Pappas (1992) the
chances of finishing school decrease if a student relies on loans, savings, or
personal assets to finance their education.
Another related problem is tuition increases, which hinder access for Mexican
American and other Latino students especially because the Latino population has
a lower median per capita income ($19,833) than either Whites ($29,606) or
Blacks ($21,662) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Kane (1995) conducted an empirical
study and found that a $1,000 increase intuition at public community colleges
caused a 6 percent drop in undergraduate enrollment.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
The fundamental mission of the
university is to conduct research and transmit information to its students and
citizens. That this transmission of information happens for Mexican Americans
and other Latinos is questionable. Latino students often lack substantial
information to even consider participating in postsecondary institutions, even
when they have the credentials to be considered. Access to and information about
admissions, financial aid, preparation for entrance exams, employment
opportunities, services, and available resources can increase participation and
graduation outcomes for Latinos.
As a group, college-qualified Latino students are significantly less likely
than other college-qualified students to have the information necessary to
participate in postsecondary institutions (Carnevale, 1999). One study found
that Latino students who did take a college entrance exam and applied to a
four-year school had participation levels equal to those of college-qualified
non-Latino Whites (NCES, 1997). According to Carnevale (1999), high school
graduates whose parents have low levels of income and education--as is the case
for many Latino families--could attend four-year colleges at the same rates as
students from middle-income families if they took three basic steps: (1) got at
least a minimal academic preparation, (2) took an entrance exam, and (3)
submitted an application for admission.
What is needed to overcome inadequate
Mexican American/Latino participation and graduation in postsecondary
institutions is not mysterious. Successfully increasing academic outcomes for
these students will require postsecondary institutions to dedicate themselves to
the following targeted strategies:
initiating partnerships with secondary schools to determine areas of needed
improvement and implement changes in public education offered to Latino
studying the academic and social climates and conditions of secondary and
reporting their study findings to governing bodies of institutions; city, state,
and federal government officials; community leaders; the community at large; and
creating and supporting financial aid packages that promote academic success
among Latino students.
working with secondary schools to provide critical information to Latino
families and students related to admissions, financial aid, preparation for
entrance exams, services, and employment opportunities.
Although postsecondary institutions have not previously succeeded in
improving equity outcomes for Mexican American and other Latino students (at
least, not in proportion to their growing presence in our society), they have
the potential to do so.
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