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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: Institutional Climate


108.  Despite negative stereotypes and unfriendly environments, Latinas found ways to carve out safe spaces for themselves through their relationships with other Latinas and Latina/o organizations.  These efforts helped them to maintain and nurture a positive sense of racial/ethnic identity while being successful college students.  Latinos also encountered unfriendly environments and negative stereotypes but unlike the Latinas, they experienced opportunities and privilege through sports.  These Latinos often were mentored by White coaches who encouraged them to do well academically.  The study claims that the Latinos paid a psychological price for their opportunity and privilege that results in a strong focus on individualism and ambivalence toward their racial/ethnic identity.

109.  Yet, another study concludes that positive correlation exists between cultural congruity and perceptions of college environment.  Latinas had higher levels of cultural congruity and more positive perceptions of the university environment than did the Latinos.

110.  An in depth study of two Stanford Latino graduates it was pointed out that peer pressure, racism, language difficulties, alienation, and poverty are all barriers to the college success of “in-need” students.  Many of the challenges students face are interpersonal rather than academic or require cultural knowledge that is not readily available.

111.  The Latinos in another study felt that they were consistently policed in society and at school.  This included a type of “academic policing” where teachers questioned Latino students’ intellectual abilities and their physical presence in advanced placement classes. For several students in the study, the criminalization of males led to cutting classes.  For one Latino student, however, being active in a community activist organization and mentored by an older caring Latino helped him to resist the criminalization and eventually enroll and do well in college.

112.  What eased the situation of parents permitting Latinas to leave home for college was an acquired understanding by the parents that there would be support systems within the university readily available to their daughters.  In a few cases, the students’ siblings, who had gone to college before them, served as advocates for the Latinas by reassuring their parents that they would have the social and emotional support necessary to succeed in college.  The support systems that eased the apprehension of parents took the form of Latina/o faculty and staff on campus, the presence of a church on campus, and other Latina/o college students on campus.

113.  Stereotype threat negatively affected students’ sense of belonging and morale but did not affect their self confidence in analytical skills and orientation to the campus.

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114.  Lack of access and availability of Advanced Placement classes for many Latina/o students may be an indication of a school’s lack of a college-going culture making college enrollment less likely for their students.

115.  A study showed both positive and negative examples of teachers and how they influenced student success or failure.  When teachers demonstrated negative actions (which included lack of cultural understanding, use of stereotypes, assumed lack of understanding by Mexican-descent students, and excluded Mexican-descent students from class activities) students’ academic success was hindered.  Students were helped when positive actions (that included the complete opposite of the negative actions) were demonstrated by teachers.

116.  In one study, over half of the Latino students had family incomes less then $25,000 per year.  Only 14 percent of the Latino students had parents with a bachelor’s degree as compared to 30 percent for White students.  Twenty-two percent of Latinos, as compared to 41percent of Whites, enrolled at a four-year institution.  Over half of the Latino students, as compared to 39 percent of all other student groups, were enrolled part time.

117.  In a California study, the proportion of teachers with emergency credentials at Latino high schools was twice that for White and Asian-American high schools.  Students attending Latino high schools were less likely to apply, be admitted to, or enroll in the University of California system than students attending predominantly White or Asian-American high schools.

118.  In one study, some of the participants reported being negatively impacted by the standard social studies curriculum and pedagogy.  This included not knowing that Mexicanos/Chicanos contributed to U.S. society in significant ways, that Mexicanos/Chicanos were capable of attaining a higher education, and by internalizing negative feelings about their personal selves, their culture, especially the Spanish language and ideals of beauty.  The author advocates a postcolonial critical method of education, especially in the area of social studies.

119.  In a study of admissions policies at the University of California system, the author notes that merit currently is defined as a reward for prior high school achievement rather than a combination of both achievement and the potential beneficial outcomes for society.  He suggests that a more comprehensive definition of merit would acknowledge K-12 inequities and potential, as well as actual achievement.


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Transition and Adjustment

120. One of the clear facilitators of student adjustment involves the nature of affiliations that students develop with peers (both within ethnic groups and across ethnic groups).

121.  Gates Millennium Scholars were more likely than non recipients to exhibit behaviors and receive support that is important to their adjustment to college and long term academic success.

122.  In one study, only family support uniquely predicted emotional, academic, and overall adjustment.  Only general peer support uniquely predicted social adjustment.

123.  Students who reported higher levels of psychological well being also reported higher levels of cultural congruity.  Those with higher levels of cultural congruity also perceived fewer educational barriers and tended to use the coping strategy of finding out more about a situation to take positive, planned action to overcome barriers.


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Stress and Coping

124.  An increased sense of self-efficacy was related to the increased perception of social support from friends.  Although previous findings point to finances as a significant stressor predictive of nonpersistence, finances were not found to be predictive of nonpersistence in this study.

125.  In one study, Latino students were primarily concerned about their grades, study skills, and family relationships.  Other areas of concern included career choices, job searching, and relationships with friends.  Primary sources of support were friends, parents, and significant others.  Sharing concerns with parents, friends, siblings, and significant others was seen as preferable to seeking professional help.

126.  The two coping responses most utilized by Latina students were talking about their problems with others and taking positive, planned action when dealing with high stress situations.


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Fit and Dropping Out

127.  A fitting in factor extends beyond a matching of academic credentials with institutional attributes and includes positive personal and social feelings that facilitate social interactions and relationships with other students and faculty.

128.  A study of school dropouts concluded that attendance and credits for classes posed a major problem for students that for various reasons could not attend classes regularly.  Often these students were told that they would have to make up lost time and credits and this escalated into feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and eventually to dropping out.  Students also reported not feeling included, as well as being deliberately excluded from participating, in extracurricular activities.  This contributed to students not feeling that they were a part of the school community and to feeling marginalized from school.

129.  Most extracurricular activities were correlated with a much higher likelihood of retention in high school.  Non athletic extracurricular activities had a greater positive relationship with school retention, but athletics also correlated with a higher likelihood of retention.


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130.  In a study of Latina/o college students, it was reported that there is a positive relationship between perceptions of the university environment and having a mentor.  The prediction that students with a mentor of the same ethnic group would have higher levels of cultural congruity and more positive perceptions of the university environment than those students with a mentor of a differing ethnicity was not supported.  There was no difference between the perceptions of Latinas as compared to Latinos about being mentored.

131.  In a study of the racialized experiences of Latina/o students, it was concluded that the mentoring of a caring older Latino helped one student to succeed in education.









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