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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.

Macro Context: The Latino Population

The macro context focuses on three major themes related to the Latino population:  Its demographics, immigration patterns and trends, and the nature of the Latino community.  These studies often have a comparative focus and provide baseline data for analyzing trends.


1.  There has been a large increase in the Latino population of the U.S. both in terms of numbers and geographic dispersion.  North Carolina experienced a growth of 394 percent between 1990 and 2000.  High birth and immigration rates are seen as the main driving forces for the population increase.

2.  Demographic studies provide the baseline data for comparing the Latino population to various other groups in the U.S. so that a clear pattern emerges in which Latina/os experience lower levels of educational attainment in all segments of the educational system leading to the notion of an “achievement gap”.  A typical description of the Latino educational achievement gap can be sketched as follows:

For every 100 Latino elementary school students, 48 drop out of high school and 52 graduate

   from high school.

Of the 52 who graduate from high school, 31 enroll in college.

Of the 31 who enroll in college, 20 go to a community college and 11 go to a 4-year institution.

Of the 20 who go to a community college, 2 transfer to a 4-year college.

Of the 31 who enrolled in college, 10 graduate from college.

Of the 10 who graduate from college, 4 earn a graduate degree, and less than 1 earns a


3.  Latinos attend community colleges in disproportionately large numbers and tend to be concentrated in nonselective universities.

4.  Many Latino students come from families with lower incomes and less education than parents than other groups in the population.

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5.  Achieving proficiency in English is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Latino students to succeed in U.S. schools.  There is some evidence showing that the highest achieving Latino high school students are bilingual as compared to lesser achieving monolingual (in either English or Spanish) Latino students.

6.  Immigrant status increases the number of reported institutional obstacles to gaining a higher education.  For example, students born in Mexico reported more institutional obstacles than those born in the U.S.  Students who wrote in English reported more institutional resources than those writing in Spanish.

7.  Informal, non family adult mentors can be instrumental in increasing the educational success of Latino students, including immigrant students.  They accomplish this by providing affective support and access to resources.

8.  English language learners are often tracked or segregated, and they can feel that they must choose between a “gringo” identity and a Chicano one; they associate “acting white” with good behavior in school.  Most choose to assimilate but are ambivalent about their decision. 


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9.  Ethnic loyalty predicts whether students think that college educated women of Mexican descent are seen as elitist, thus potentially stigmatizing higher education.

10.  Framing educational pursuits as methods by which students can fight discrimination, enhance ethnic pride, and assist their communities when they return with college degrees can make college going more attractive to Latino students.









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