ERIC Identifier: ED477908
Publication Date: 2002-09-00
Author: Saenz, Victor B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Hispanic Students and Community Colleges: A Critical Point for
Intervention. ERIC Digest.
In recent years issues pertaining to Hispanics* in higher education have
garnered heightened attention from researchers and policy makers, and as part of
this attention, community colleges have begun to receive increased attention as
the decisive link in the greater overall educational attainment of this group.
Hispanic college student enrollments have increased steadily during the last two
decades, driven by increases at two-year institutions that saw the number of
Hispanic students triple (NCES, 2001, Table 207). Despite the surge in
enrollment, this group remains notably underrepresented at all levels of higher
education, and has one of the lowest overall educational attainment rates of any
major ethnic or racial group (U.S. Census Bureau, 1998). Nonetheless, the
community college sector has become a critical avenue towards higher degree
attainment for Hispanic students as evidenced by the increasing number choosing
this path (Wilds & Wilson, 1998; Fry, 2002).
This digest explores the status of Hispanic students at community colleges,
including a summary of recent enrollment and transfer trends, a focus on factors
that shape Hispanic student enrollment at community colleges, and an overview of
an exemplary program that facilitates the successful matriculation of Hispanic
college students from two-year institutions to baccalaureate completion.
RECENT TRENDS FOR HISPANIC COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Community colleges represent the frontline in educating students
from diverse backgrounds, as America's 1,076 public community colleges educate
over half of all minority students in higher education (NCES, 2001, Table 245).
While Hispanics are underrepresented in four-year institutions, they are well
represented in two-year institutions, where more than 55 percent of all Hispanic
students enroll (Wilds & Wilson, 1998). Enrollment growth for Hispanics in
the community colleges may be partly due to the fact according to the United
States Census Bureau (2000) this group is the fastest-growing, youngest, and
largest racial or ethnic group in the United States accounting for approximately
13 percent of the population. In light of this growth, the Hispanic college-age
population has increased by 14 percent since 1994, expanding the potential
college applicant pool (Harvey, 2002).
As Hispanic students become more concentrated at post-secondary institutions,
their overrepresentation at community colleges is seen by some policy makers,
researchers, and practitioners as a detriment to their educational attainment;
others see it as a sign of good things to come. In general, it is noted that
more than half of all students that begin at two-year institutions never achieve
any type of post-secondary degree (Garcia, 2001; Rendon & Garza, 1996). For
Hispanic community college students, this trend is even more pronounced, as
their transfer and persistence rates are among the lowest (Harvey, 2002; Rendon
& Garza, 1996). As a result, some critics view the community college as an
obstacle to further educational attainment, and ultimately as way to perpetuate
social stratification (Karabel, 1972). Others argue that most Hispanic students
tend to choose community colleges out of necessity, as they are often the only
feasible affordable choice for a college education (Rendon & Garza, 1996).
In general, it can be argued that community colleges facilitate postsecondary
opportunities for those who might not otherwise attend and thereby act as a
catalyst to the baccalaureate for a host of students.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT HISPANIC STUDENT ENROLLMENT AT COMMUNITY
For Hispanic students, the decision to attend a community college
is often the most sensible choice available. Students are attracted to community
colleges not always as a means of transfer to four-year institutions, but
precisely because they offer vocational preparation, adult education, remedial
schooling, and career enhancement for professionals. In addition, community
colleges are more affordable, offer many night and weekend classes, willingly
accept part-time students, offer neighborhood convenience, and have an open
admissions policy. These are among the most common and practical reasons for any
student who might choose to attend a community college, but for Hispanic
students, there are some additional factors that affect this decision.
For one, young Hispanic adults have an extraordinarily high labor force
participation rate, as contributing to the household expenses is a common
necessity in most Hispanic households (Fry, 2002). Hispanic women face
additional cultural stressors in navigating the higher education pipeline, as
entrenched gender roles in Hispanic families can act as suppressors to their
educational and career aspirations (Romo, 1998; Rendon, 1992). Nevertheless,
Hispanic women also continue to be more likely than their male counterparts to
participate in higher education (Harvey, 2002). Further, the longer Hispanics
wait to enter higher education, the more likely they will enroll in a community
college, as a significant portion of the Hispanic community college population
is made up of students over the age of 24 (Fry, 2002). It is important to note
that a strong commitment to work and family does not prevent Hispanics from
attaining post-secondary education, although a sense of these responsibilities
coupled with low income status might be factors in explaining why so many attend
affordable and conveniently located community colleges on a part-time basis
(Fry, 2002). Ultimately, cultural validation is crucial to increasing the
persistence and transfer rates among all Hispanic students in community
colleges, and any interventions targeting this population must be sensitive to
this type of cultural awareness (Laden, 1998). One exemplary program that has
done well in employing a cultural-specific strategy is the Puente program.
AFFECTING TRANSFER RATES THROUGH PROGRAMMATIC
Some states have engaged in programmatic efforts targeting
Hispanic community college students, and among the most recognizable and lauded
efforts is the Puente Project, a 20-year collaborative partnership between the
California community colleges and the University of California. Originally
conceived as an institutional response to the low transfer and associate degree
completion rates of Hispanic community college students, the Puente Project
currently serves students at 45 community colleges and 31 high schools
throughout California. Its goal is to increase the number of educationally
underserved students who transfer from two-year to four-year institutions and
Community college educators Patricia McGrath and Felix Galaviz founded the
Puente project on the premise that greater participation by the Hispanic
community would engender more institutional accountability and responsiveness,
and ultimately a more effective and culturally sensitive educational environment
(McGrath & Galaviz, 1996). An important documented component of the Puente
project is how it addresses the unique needs of Hispanic students by affirming
their ethnic identities and validating their experiences through curricular
offerings (Laden, 1998). In another recent evaluation by Gandara & Bial
(2001), Puente was one of seven programs nationwide to offer three or more
different types of counseling services, and the only one to use a comprehensive
suite of personal enrichment and social integration strategies. Specifically,
the report praised the regular interaction that students have with a Puente
counselor as well as a community mentor who serves as a positive role model.
Another mark of success is that approximately 50 percent of Puente students who
complete the Puente program transfer to a four-year institution within three
years (Laden, 2000). By employing targeted early intervention as well as ongoing
exposure to culturally enriched environments, the Puente model serves as a prime
template in designing programs geared toward increased persistence and transfer
of Hispanic students.
This Digest has explored the status of Hispanic
community college students and a sampling of factors that affect their
enrollment and persistence. Programs such as Puente that target early
intervention, expose students to culturally validating environments, and help in
the transfer process to four-year institutions, are playing a more critical role
for Hispanic students' movement through the education pipeline. In light of the
changing demographics of the college applicant pool, community colleges will
continue to be a critical point for Hispanic students' entry into postsecondary
More specifically, in reconsidering the rising enrollments and the stagnant
persistence rates of Hispanic students, the transfer function must be the
crucial point of intervention. If real strides are to be made in increasing the
overall educational achievement of this group, researchers and policymakers must
continue to study and address the needs of this population, and any intervention
should be focused on Hispanic students already in the higher education system.
Census 2000: Demographic profiles [Data file].
Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Fry, R. (2002). Latinos in higher education: Many enroll, too few graduate.
Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved September 30, 2002, from
Gandara, P., & Bial, D. (2001). Paving the way to postsecondary
education: K-12 intervention programs for underrepresented youth (NCES No.
2001205). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Number ED 458 340)
Garcia, P. (2001). Understanding obstacles and barriers to Hispanic
Baccalaureates. Notre Dame, IN: Institute for Latino Studies, University of
Notre Dame. Retrieved September 30, 2002, from
Harvey, W. (2002). Minorities in higher education: Nineteenth annual status
report. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Karabel, J. (1972). Community colleges and social stratification: Submerged
class conflict in American higher education. Harvard Educational Review 42,
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students to college. Paper presented at the American Educational Research
Association annual meeting, San Diego, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Number ED
Laden, B. V. (2000). The Puente Project: Socializing and mentoring Latino
community college students. Academic Quarterly Exchange, 4(2), 90-99.
McGrath, P., & Galaviz, F. (1996, Fall). The Puente Project. On common
ground: Strengthening teaching through school university partnership.
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directions for community colleges, 80 (pp. 55-64). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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Rendon, L. I., & Garza, H. (1996). Closing the gap between two- and
four-year institutions. In L. I. Rendon & R.O. Hope (Eds.), Educating a new
majority: Transforming America's educational system for diversity (pp. 289-308).
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Romo, H. (1998). Latina high school leaving: Some practical solutions. ERIC
digest. Charleston, VW: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small
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Wilds, D. J., & Wilson, R. (1998). Minorities in higher education:
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Although there are many terms that can be used to refer to people of Latin
descent, in this Digest the term Hispanic will be used to describe students that
are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, or other Latin descent.