In higher-ed policy circles, it is well established that Hispanics trail other minority groups in getting post-secondary degrees:
But a new report from Excelencia in Education notes that too often policies aimed at closing the gap have relied on a false picture of the Hispanic population, one which reduces all members of the group to "immigrants, high school dropouts, and English language learners." This is actually a small minority of the Hispanic school-age population: The majority of Hispanic K-12 students are native-born (87 percent) and native English speakers (80 percent). So while programs that focus on immigrants and stress language learning are important, they miss the mark when it comes to most of the Hispanic community.
Where these students need help, the report argues, is in gaining access to higher ed -- and in completing their degrees once they're in. Here, Hispanics share many of the problems of first-generation college students (58 percent of Hispanics are the first in their families to go to college): They tend to be less prepared than their classmates; have limited information about the college experience, including financial-aid policies; and may have trouble navigating the culture differences between home and college.
These problems call for more guidance and financial aid -- especially at community colleges, which enroll more Hispanics than four-year universities. Unfortunately, the advising system at community colleges is basically nonexistent. These institutions need to adopt targeted tutoring and advising programs to help minority students throughout their academic careers -- not just through the transition from high school to college as some programs do. It's largely a money issue: Community colleges have fewer financial resources to hire counselors or offer financial aid, which is why many of their students are enrolled part time. Making sure student have enough financial aid to be able to go to school full time and enough support to succeed once they get there would increase graduation rates. The Obama administration's community college initiative, which allocates $12 billion over the next 10 years, is a step in the right direction, but as I've written before, it's far too little to keep pace with demand.