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Latino College Graduation Rate Lags Behind

Roughly half of Latinos in higher education graduate. Researchers and universities are asking why, and what can be done to better support Latino students. 

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Though the overall enrollment for Latino students at colleges and universities has more than doubled in the past two decades, only about one in two of all Latino students will walk across the stage and graduate with a diploma in hand. 

In 2015, the national graduation rate for Latinos at four-year colleges was 53.6 percent, almost 10 percentage points behind the graduation rate for white students, according to a report published in December by the national nonprofit group Education Trust. The study compares the gap in graduation rates at similar institutions to see what some colleges and universities are doing right—and what some are missing—to retain Latino students and ensure they complete degree programs. 

The reasons why Latinos drop out of degree programs are varied, but the report cites certain “systemic disadvantages” experienced by many Latinos—coming from a low-income background, being English learners, immigration issues, and attending primary and secondary schools with less resources—that make the process of adjusting to college and succeeding in higher education a struggle. 

These challenges are magnified for Latinos born outside of the country seeking higher education, as indicated by an Oct. 2017 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that shows that only 34 percent of foreign-born Latinos have attained some level of postsecondary education, compared to 61 percent of native-born Latinos.  

Some colleges and universities are looking to increase retention and graduation rates by building community support and mentorship specifically designed for Latino students. 

The University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at Dallas were among the schools profiled in the Education Trust report whose graduation rates for Latino students track behind those of similar institutions. In December, officials from both schools told the Dallas Morning News that they are working to close the gap by strengthening programs for Latino and first-generation college students. 

Their strategies, from support groups called “familias” for first-generation students led by faculty who also were first-generation students, to mentorship programs for underrepresented students and academic transition programs, emphasize the importance of human resources and community development for Latinos pursuing higher education degrees. 

Graduation rate and degree completion are key to the economic future of Latinos in the U.S., the Georgetown study points out: By 2020,  65 percent of jobs in the U.S. are projected to require some postsecondary education. The fact that Latinos are behind other groups in obtaining four-year degrees will have a far-reaching impact on the Latino community for years to come.

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