Over 50% of Girls in 3 States Are Latinas – What Does That Mean for Colleges?

Posted By Monica Harvin on January 22, 2016 at 3:46 pm
Over 50% of Girls in 3 States Are Latinas – What Does That Mean for Colleges?

One in five women living in the U.S. is Latina, and by 2060, this is expected to increase to a third of the U.S. female population. In public schools across the country, Latinas account for about 25 percent of female students. But, in states like California, Texas, and New Mexico, these numbers are even larger, with Latinas accounting for more than 50 percent of school-age girls.

For higher education, these figures hold significant meaning, as colleges and universities enroll more young Latinas. A report released by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics shows that Latinas have made significant progress in earning college degrees, with college completion rates increasing by eight percent for two-year degrees and six percent for four-year degrees between 2003 and 2013.

Latinas are still finishing college at much lower rates than their female counterparts. In 2013, about 19 percent of Latinas age 25 to 29 had a college degree, compared to 44 percent of white women, 23 percent of African-American women, and 64 percent of Asian women. When it comes to degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, there are even fewer Latinas with degrees in STEM fields.

For graduate degrees, these numbers are even lower, with only about four percent of Latinas holding an advanced degree in 2013. This doesn’t mean Latinas haven’t made significant strides, doubling their share of graduate degree holders from two to four percent in just ten years. However, compared to other non-Hispanic groups – 11 percent of white women, five percent of black women, and 22 percent of Asian women have an advanced degree – there remain large gaps.

Obstacles Latinas face to earning a college degree

Latinas are more likely to live in poverty than other demographic groups, with one-fourth living below the poverty line and more than half living near poverty, finds the White House report. Similar to African-American girls, they’re also more likely to attend high-poverty high schools, characterized by “inadequate facilities, lack of high level curricula, under qualified teachers with less experience, more behavior problems, lower expectations for their students, and both students and school personnel who rapidly come and go.”

What’s more, nearly half of Latina girls start school speaking Spanish as their first language. “Instead of recognizing their native language skills as an asset to build on, they are often placed in remedial programs that track them into lower level curricula and slow their academic progress,” notes the White House report. As Latinas learn English in school, their Spanish skills are not similarly developed and even lost. Latinas who lose their language have lower levels of college enrollment, compared to Latinas who learn English while maintaining their Spanish at high levels.

The UCLA study “Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S.” also found that Latinas “are often expected to prioritize family responsibilities above school; they often feel that they “don’t belong” in school, a feeling that can be reinforced by discrimination and low expectations; they see few models of Latinas who have excelled educationally that they can emulate, and too many lack any understanding of how or even why to pursue a college education.”

Latinas that are first-generation college students face a disadvantage compared to non-first-generation peers who often receive more guidance on navigating and succeeding in the university from college-educated parents. “Latinas need real information about higher education, WHY they should pursue it, HOW they can do it, and how it will change their lives. Too many young Latinas don’t really understand what higher ed is all about.  It’s something that “other people” do,” Patricia Gándara, Ph.D., author of the White House report and co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, tells GoodCall.

“We also need to figure out how these young women can make it through a college degree without going deeply into debt and also be able to attend full time,” says Gándara, pointing out that Latinas are likely to enroll in school only part-time and work at the same time, which can prolong college and result in additional student debt.

Latinas still missing in higher education

Despite these challenges, increasing numbers of Latinas are enrolling at universities across the country. However, with the exception of Hispanic Serving Institutions and some other Minority Serving Institutions, what college-going Latinas are finding are campuses where Latinos and other minorities make up much smaller shares of the student body than is reflected in the general U.S. population, and even fewer Latina and minority faculty members.

Women, in general, account for only 42 percent of full-time college professors. And Latinas, in particular, are even less represented in university faculties. “Only 4 percent of tenured or tenure-track female faculty members in the United States are Latina (78 percent are white, 7 percent are African American, and 7 percent are Asian American), and only 3 percent of female full-time professors are Latina,” according to the American Association of University Professors.

Finding support, mentors, and community

Having a mentor is often key to helping Latinas overcome the obstacles that come with being a low-income student, or a female minority at the university or in their profession. However, with so little Latina faculty and a lack of cultural diversity competency among the other faculty and staff, finding this mentor at the university can be difficult for many young Latina women.

Because of this, many Latinas are taking action to create opportunities for Latinas for find mentors, from university initiatives to building online communities for Latina career advancement. Latinitas is one example of an online community for Latina teens age 13 and older to share knowledge about how to succeed in school and college, find scholarship opportunities, and to share the experience of being a young Latina in the U.S. What they’re sharing has important implications for schools, universities and the country as a whole. Below are some excerpts from Latinitas:

  • “I’m white comple[xion] and most people don’t think that I am Hispanic, even though I’m 100% Latina… Growing up in a border town I never saw prejudice or racism towards our race/culture until I left my hometown to attend college. It was a shocking experience as I saw some of my friends get treated differently than me just because they looked more Hispanic than I do. I’ve had people complain to me about Hispanics not knowing that they’re complaining about Hispanics to a Hispanic. It’s hard to believe that in 2015 these types of acts still occur and [are] very relevant in the world today.”
  • “I am a first generation so… I wanted to know EVERYTHING [about college] but in the end I would of liked to just know tips on what “not to do.” For example, I wish I would of know[n] what organizations were good to do and which were… not too good. I overwhelmed myself my first year with organizations and had to learn on my own what was worth it and also had to learn which ones were know[n] on campus for their good deeds or not good deeds. In all honest[y] I wish I had a mentor in my pocket my first years.”
  • “I was lucky that someone shared this brilliant nugget with me: if you are worried about money, apply to good private liberal arts colleges. They have a ton of money and great aid scholarships, often covering more than your aid at a state school. [A]lso because of their large endowments, more money is invested per student for resources, services, activities, travel, etc… Private schools have huge price tags, but don’t be intimidated. Myself and many friends are on full rides thanks to the amount of green in my school’s bank. So go for it!”
  • “When I was in high school, I thought I felt like I knew a little too much about college. Being the youngest in my family, I had watched my brother and my sister go through their college application, acceptance, and graduation process. I thought to myself, “I’ve seen it all!” But honestly, when it came to being my turn to go to college, it was as if I had never knew anything about college at all… you need to realize that there are going to be people who are completely different from you in college. I had a difficult time dealing with this issue – something many refer to as “culture shock.” I believe this is one of the biggest things I should have been told about when I was younger.”

Higher education for Latinas, a top priority

The posts describe how these young women feel alienated when they go to college – many of them of first-generation college goers, how they experience prejudice against them as Latinas, their need for mentors, and show the advice they are giving young Latinas planning to go to college. What’s more, they point to a very diverse set of experiences occurring across the young Latina population. With the growing population of school-age Latinas looking toward and enrolling in college every year, for colleges and universities, it will be essential that they understand who the Latinas they are serving are.

Despite the fact that Hispanics, in general, are going to make up the biggest share of U.S. population growth between 2015-2060, “There are people that don’t really care about Latinos in the U.S.,” Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions expressed concern in an interview with GoodCall. Though not her personal position, she went on to say, “But, even if you don’t care about Latinos, you should care about yourself because your interests [as a country, state, or community] are wrapped up in those young ladies.”

By ensuring more young Latinas in the U.S. earn a college degree, these young women are going to be able to contribute more to their local communities and to the nation. And that’s in everyone’s best interest. Predictions for 2020: 65 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require postsecondary education beyond high school. And in California, one of the states with the largest young Latina populations, more jobs – 67 percent – will require higher education.

Monica Harvin
Monica is a GoodCall contributing editor, covering personal finance and education. She's also GoodCall's diversity expert, with a master's degree in Latin American studies from UCLA and bachelor's degree in history from the University of Florida.

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