Latino College Enrollment Shrunk During COVID-19

Latinos are suffering high rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with low vaccine rates.

But in addition to the health impact, the pandemic is worsening underlying health inequities for this population in areas like access to housing, federal aid, and healthy food.

Now, new research shows that the pandemic is even reducing the number of Latino students enrolling in college. The economic crisis brought on by the spread of the coronavirus, which hit the Latino community hard, made it hard for many Latino students to enroll.

“Because our adults tend to be blue-collar workers who have lost out in this economy, having additional hands, all able-bodied folks working, has become essential,” Deborah A. Santiago, chief executive of the nonprofit advocacy group Excelencia in Education, told The Washington Post. “Students are having to prioritize supporting their family — going to college is another way to do that, but the immediate need has superseded the longer-term goal.”

What the Research Shows on Latino College Enrollment amid COVID-19

Latino students were once the fastest-growing group of college students in the U.S.

Due to the pandemic, that is no longer the case. Worse, the data indicates that this will not change over the course of 2021.

Communities of color are continuing to bear the burden of the recent economic fallout, and its lessening families’ ability to send their children to college.

In fact, Latino students are now 200% more likely to forgo college plans than their white peers, according to Inside Higher Education.

“The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which millions of students fill out each year for college aid, reports about 7% fewer high school applicants compared to last year,” Anne Dennon with Best Colleges writes. “Among schools with a Black and Latino/a student enrollment of 75% or higher, 18% fewer students have submitted the FAFSA. In total, FAFSA applications from high school students are down 10%.”

COVID-19 Latino College Shrunk

Moreover, Latino parents have become less able to take on debt during COVID-19. This is contributing to the decline in their children becoming college students, according to a recent Public Viewpoint survey.

The survey found that:

  • 35% of Americans have canceled or changed their education plans, including delaying enrollment, reducing courses, or switching institutions.
  • Of the students that were likely to have canceled or delayed their plans:
    • 32% were Latino
    • 24% were Black
    • 21% were Asian American
    • 16% were white

Still, Black Americans and Latinos were more likely to say that they intend to enroll in education and training programs in the next six months.

Another factor here is the drop in community college enrollment among Latinos.

Last fall, community colleges experienced sharp drops in enrollment. Overall undergraduate college enrollment declined 2.5% while community college enrollment dropped over 10%.

COVID-19’s Impact on Latino Education Overall

These declines in enrollment play a damaging role in the gains made by educators working to get more Latino students into college.

“We got a lot of people talking about how important going to college is,” said Katherine Díaz, the deputy director for the nonprofit RGV Focus, a group located in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, told Wired. “More students started seeing, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ And they thought, ‘I’m doing this because I want to show my cousins that they can do this too.’”

At large, Latino parents are concerned about education for their children, their economic security, and racial justice when emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recent data from a report conducted by Latino Decisions and Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors.

Parents also want government leaders to address these issues, the survey says.

“The future of our country is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of Latino families. If we don’t act now, America will face a deeper economic depression, workforce instability, and soaring school drop-out rates,” according to the policy report.

Several studies measured testing scores in math and reading for elementary school students in Fall 2020 compared to Fall 2019.

A report by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found that while some students are improving, Latino and Black students are falling behind their white peers. college enrollent among Latinos students studying

“While a majority of students did better than expected in reading — scoring at levels similar to typical nonpandemic years — this wasn’t true for Black and Hispanic students and those who attend high-poverty schools,” according to NBC News.

The trend is concerning. It highlights the growing disparities between children of color and their white peers, especially as Latino and Black people have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.

“Latino families are seeing their children fall behind in school using distance learning. However, because Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, parents feel increased anxiety about the health risks of sending their children back to school,” according to the Latino Decisions policy report.

What You Can Do

This problem is worrying, especially considering the harm it can do down the road.

“The students we’re losing—the ones who aren’t showing up or logging in—that’s the future of our workforce,” Laura Ward, senior vice president for talent development at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, told Wired.

How equitable is education in your area?

You can find out with by downloading a Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

With the report card, you can see how many of your neighbors face inequities in food access, education, income, health care, and much more. You can also start talks with your local school board with information such as rates of adults with no high school diploma, data on preschool enrollment, and the rate high school graduation as well as dropouts — all within the report card.

Then you can email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share on social, and build the case to address health equity issues in at-risk areas!


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