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A Research/Policy Hub on Latina/os and Higher Education

What We Know about Latina/o Student Access and Success in Postsecondary Education

A Report to the Lumina Foundation
Raymond Padilla, Ph.D.


Micro Context: The Family

Parents and Family

11. Supportive parents and family can positively impact the educational achievement of Latino students. Support entails positive communication, good relationships with adults, a caring environment, and parents’ interest in their children’s education. Students from such families say that their families value academic goals, believe in their ability to contribute, provide role models, advocate for the students, and provide a safe environment. Families also can provide “counter stories” that portray college going as challenging but worthwhile. Thus, families can create either a “culture of possibility” or a “culture of success” that channels the student into high educational attainment.
12. Family poverty has an overall negative impact on children’s test scores and correlates with an absence of stimulating books and learning activities in the home.
13. Academic achievement may be negatively impacted by having mothers who dropped out of high school, by being raised in a single parent household, by having a mother with a low prestige job or unemployed, by living in an unsafe neighborhood, by having three or more siblings, by being physically punished frequently, by having low birth weight, by being born to a teenage mother, or having a mother who is depressed. These are all risk factors that must be taken into account in assessing the educational achievement of Latino students.
14. Though not always a direct verbal message, Latino parents were encouraging of their children’s educational pursuits. Such encouragement may not always deal directly with the mechanics of the college going process, but with the need to advance oneself economically and avoid the life the student’s parents had to endure due to limited educational attainment. Latino parents may be unaware of the importance or meaning of SAT scores, the availability of SAT preparation courses, state university entrance requirements, or how to obtain financial aid. So while they may have high expectations for their children, Latino parents may not be able to advocate effectively for their children to succeed in educational institutions.
15. The advocacy of the mother can be particularly important in promoting the educational success of Latina/o students.
16. The ranking of filial responsibility expectations is similar between Mexican Americans and Whites.

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Language and Culture

17. There are three environments in institutions of higher education that may be alienating to Latino students: The physical, social, and epistemological environments. The physical environment encompasses architectural and design features premised on a White aesthetic; the social environment includes the predominantly white population of the campus, and the epistemological environment refers to the knowledge that is valued by the university, mostly knowledge from a Euro-centric perspective. Under these circumstances, Latina/o students can become “cultural workers” who attempt to transform the campus environment; similarly, the students’ attempts to connect with Latino spaces on and off campus are seen as strategies to lessen their alienation from the campus environment.
18. For Mexican American females, cultural incorporation, i.e. combining of elements of Mexican and majority culture, related positively to achievement.
19. Latino students who perceive less support from students on campus are more likely to seek and find support among other Latino students.
20. Latina/o students offer cultural resources to each other and to White students who associate with them. These benefits include socially conscious values, an emphasis on community service careers, and engagement in community service activities after graduation.
21. On some campuses, the emergence of multiple Latino student organizations highlights the diversity within the Latino population, but also works to segregate various Latino groups based on cultural or nationalistic lines. Student organizations often realize the need to minimize competition for membership and resources.
22. Language difficulties, among other factors, can be barriers to the college success of Mexican American students.
23. When teachers demonstrated negative actions (including lack of cultural understanding), Latino student academic success was hindered.
24. High achieving Latina/o youth evidenced high social capital and a “culture of success” that including active seeking of information about college and connecting to resource networks.

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Race and Identity

25. With respect to Latina/o students, discriminatory behaviors directed toward them can be expressed as a set of “institutional abuses”. These include being emotionally discouraging, providing inaccurate information or insufficient knowledge, withholding critical information, and limiting access to opportunities for college.

26. Highly ethnically identified Latinos seem to be particularly at risk in institutions in which Latinos are vastly underrepresented.

27. The relationship between ego identity, crises, and racial-cultural conflicts were strong for Mexican American students.

28. Courses in K-12 often overlook the presence of people of color in the curriculum, focusing exclusively on White versions of U.S. society and use White mainstream models of education. Mexican Americans are invisible in the curriculum, uncritically portrayed by educators, or portrayed in negative or hostile ways.

29. For high achieving Puerto Rican students, having a strong Puerto Rican identity was a success factor. Students were able to counter negative stereotypes and low expectations because they felt proud of their identity and cultural heritage.

30. Regarding access to the University of California system, Latino students are expected to travel a greater learning distance, with less affirmation of their ethnic/racial identities, and with less support than students of the dominant culture.


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Migrant Status and Resilience

31. Attendance and credits for classes posed a major problem for students that for various reasons could not attend classes regularly, which included work obligations and migration.

32. Chicano and Latino students report feeling uncomfortable in special education classes to which they often have been referred unnecessarily when language or other issues were actually the problem.

33. It may be unrealistic for educators to place their hopes exclusively on students’ individual motivation and resiliency in the face of limited and scarce educational and personal resources.









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