Latino students were once the fastest-growing group in U.S. colleges.
Due to COVID-19, that is no longer the case.
Latinos and other communities of color continue to bear a heavy burden of the pandemic economic fallout, making it harder for families to send their children to college.
In response, George Fox University, a private university in Newberg, Oregon, launched the Liberation Scholars Program.
The program offers seminars, mentoring, and more for high school students at Woodburn High School, according to Mario Garza, a college and career counselor at Woodburn.
“I think what we try to do, and I think what George Fox is doing with us through their Liberation Scholars program, is really trying to build up the toolbox for all of these kids,” Garza said, according to OBP. “Having them make sure they have an understanding of how to get where they’re trying to get to, and what that actually means once they get there.”
Latino Students and Liberation Scholars Program
Liberation Scholars gives Latino students at Woodburn High School the opportunity to start preparing for college by providing examples of classes and the experience of life on campus.
For example, 14 Latino rising seniors at Woodburn participated in a two-week program that discuss philosophy, race, gender, education and more under the guidance of a college professor and bilingual college students.
Moreover, these students will receive college credit for this course, as it is a summarized version of a George Fox honors class.
Students are not only getting college credit, but they feel like it is preparing them for a future on a college campus.
“I feel more comfortable with the idea,” Ashley Guerra Cervantes, a senior at Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy, said, according to Oregon Live. “At first it was so intimidating I just chose not to think about it, but I feel the more we talk about it, it makes it feel more possible.”
In recent years, Woodburn High has regularly had higher graduation rates than the state average. But, students in Woodburn, roughly 83% of whom identify as Hispanic or Latino, still face challenges getting to college.
“[A lot of these students are] first-generation college students; many of these students are immigrants or the children of immigrants,” Garza said.
Heather Ohaneson, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at George Fox, was awarded a grant to offer the opportunity to Latino teens from Woodburn.
After the two weeks of intensive humanities, philosophy, literature and history curriculum, the group will continue meeting twice a month throughout the college application and acceptance process.
What the Research Shows on Latino Students and College Enrollment amid COVID-19
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%.”
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 Students and 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.
“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 systemic challenges behind the growing disparities between children of color and their white peers.
“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 to Help Latino Students
How can we support Latino students?
Here are some ways to help:
- Support Hispanic-Serving Institutions, which are on the rise.
- Offer a short task with the power to sharply increase Latino middle-schoolers’ chances of getting to college.
- Provide college for Latino students who don’t have a high-school diploma.
- Create college readiness programs in high school.
- Recognize colleges that are committed and able to help Latino students find success.
Education experts suggest investing in community college programs that help residents earn a high school equivalency credential and get on a pathway to higher education.
“States must do better in serving Latino students when it comes to access and success in public higher education,” said Arturo Vargas, Chief Executive Officer of NALEO Educational Fund. “NALEO Educational Fund will continue to work towards this goal by supporting Latino elected and appointed officials as they develop and enact policies to improve academic opportunity and success among our community.”
You can also find out how equitable education is for Latino students in your area.
Download a Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
With the report card, you can find maps and data visualizations on rates of adults with no high school diploma, data on preschool enrollment, and the rate high school graduation as well as dropouts.
You can then email your Health Equity Report Card to school and community leaders, share on social, and build the case to address education issues in at-risk areas!
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