Boosting Enrollment and Retention Among LatinX Students

This year, Latinx students’ first-time enrollment dropped by nearly 20 percent.

This year, Latinx students’ first-time enrollment dropped by nearly 20 percent. Prior to the pandemic, enrollment of Latinx students was on the rise. This is underpinned by the numerous challenges Latinx students face when enrolling in college and proceeding toward graduation. There are proven ways to engage LatinX students to encourage them to enroll and keep them enrolled that address the unique challenges of Latinx students, which can include poverty, language gaps, and a lack of awareness about higher education options.

Addressing basic needs and anti-poverty to boost retention

Two-thirds of the students at Amarillo College are women, and 43% are Latinx. More than 70% are the first in their families to attend college, and 38% qualify for federal Pell Grants. Many are married and have children, and most attend college part-time. After educating its staff on student demographics and poverty’s impact on them, Amarillo College implemented the No Excuses Poverty Initiative, aiming to help students graduate by alleviating poverty. In 2018, the Hope Center published a detailed analysis of the initiative’s impact on student success, finding that the three-year completion rate at Amarillo rose from 26% in 2012 to 45% in 2017.

The Hope Center found that a key differentiator in Amarillo College’s initiative was the creation of multiple support systems that created a “culture of caring”, or, in other words, wraparound care for students. The college established an on-campus social services office called the Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC), an emergency fund to cover student economic crises, and a student support network of organizations, businesses, and individuals. Case management, academic support, curriculum development, and college-wide hiring and evaluation practices also support the initiative. 

Addressing Latinx Students’ Unique Needs

Excelencia in Education tracks programs that effectively address the specific needs of Latinx students. One recommendation is using culturally relevant names for Latinx-geared programs, such examples include the Abiciones program at Howard Community College in Maryland or the Pioneras program at Texas Woman’s University. Both programs connect culturally with students and guide high school students through the application and enrollment  process.

Helping students build connections and community through social events, tutoring, and networking is helpful for student retention. For example, Austin Community College’s Guided Pathways program provides coaching to students to help them map out their academic path and take advantage of on-campus resources. The ultimate goal is to increase graduation rates, which increased 49% from 2016 to 2020, according to the school’s performance summary report.  

Designing dual-enrollment programs

About 65 percent of the students at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, NY, identify as Hispanic or Latino. To build a stronger pipeline of underrepresented students in STEM fields, Hostos and the City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering established a joint dual-admission engineering degree program that aligns curriculum between the two colleges to make it easier for Hostos students to transfer to the four-year school. The program received the 2021 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

Main Takeaways

Increasing LatinX students’ enrollment and graduation rates means providing comprehensive assistance that addresses LatinX students’ unique needs. Colleges and universities that have found ways to provide wraparound support for LatinX students, like Amarillo College and Austin Community College, have seen their enrollment and graduation rates increase. Likewise, specific higher education programs that prepare community college students to transfer to four-year schools’ STEM majors, like  Hostos Community College’s partnership with CUNY’s Grove School of Engineering, offer a specific academic way to increase enrollment and retain students. 

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