Enrollment of Latine students at colleges has made leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, with numbers doubling. However, Latine and African-American students remain the least likely to be enrolled or obtain a bachelor’s degree, listing financial constraints as the main reason. A D.C.-based nonprofit, Excelencia in Education, recently released a report noting that despite these increases in enrollment, graduation rates remain stagnant and unsatisfactory. Enrollment numbers that universities roll out to tout their student diversity fail to mean anything if those students are not getting the degree they pay crushing amounts of money for.
The education gap between Latine and white students is still incredibly significant, with 28% of Latine adults over 25 having an associate’s degree or higher, while that number is 48% for white adults. While it’s no small feat that universities are accepting a more diverse body of students, the lack of student retention is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter if enrollment is increasing when these students are not receiving the support they need to obtain a degree. Furthermore, with the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action, diversity in enrollment will decline and further expand the education gap.
Universities need to further prioritize the retention of students and the growth of resources that aid those students most in danger of having to leave before obtaining a degree. Higher education institutions should seek to hold themselves to a higher standard. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that has a one-size-fits-all solution. Each university faces its own challenges and needs to allocate resources differently to address housing shortages, food insecurity, educational needs and a myriad of other factors which inhibit graduation rates.
In reports from 2014 to 2017, the UC system itself has an overall 85% graduation rate within six years. Looking at Latine students within those same cohorts, there’s a 63% rate of graduation within six years, which is not significantly different from the 70% rate of graduation for four-year UC students. UC Riverside reports that, based on data from students who started at the university in 2014, 73.7% of Latine students graduated within six years. Despite this, there’s still plenty of room for improvement and further investment in decreasing the education gap at UCs. California State Universities continue to accept higher portions of Latine students and remain the main California colleges supplying bachelor’s degrees to those same populations.
Part of this problem needs to be addressed prior to college admissions. Offering students the educational resources they need in primary and secondary school, as well as increasing awareness about financial resources is essential. Academic resources and college preparation programming need to be more widely available to students.
California also needs to allocate more financial aid to Dreamer students. The California Student Aid Commission released a report stating that a mere 14% of undocumented students actually receive financial aid from the state and public universities. A lack of resources provided to Dreamers is partially to blame, with over 427,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education across the country. Legislation requiring a Dreamer resource liaison was signed in California in 2019, but for most campuses, a center designated to addressing the unique and complex needs of Dreamers is a pipe dream.
Furthermore, the decolonization of education and educational institutions — particularly college universities — needs to be addressed. In a 2023 journal article on the education gap, the authors note a common misconception that places blame on ethnic minorities through the term “achievement gap” versus understanding that these differences in degree attainment boil down to institutionalized racism. The idea of an achievement gap simply gives voice to the hateful idea that historically marginalized groups are inherently “below the standard of modernity and Western culture” rather than noticing how societally ingrained views cause the academic “deficiencies” of marginalized students.
Addressing the education gap is a long-term project that will require the full-time commitment and efforts of universities, legislators, activists, educators and students. Students are fighting every day for an education they should have a right to and there’s no end in sight.