For the three decades leading up to 2020, the rate of Latinos enrolling in college was steadily rising. But when the COVID pandemic began, those numbers took an immediate hit.
A report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows a 5.4% drop in the head count of Latino undergraduates in fall of 2020. And for the first time in 20 years, the number of Hispanic-serving institutions of higher education, which have at least 25% of their fulltime students identifying as Latino, dropped from 569 in 2022 to 559 in 2021.
Though Illinois’ Hispanic-serving institutions have not experienced the same decline as other areas across the country, Isaura Pulido, Northeastern Illinois University professor of educational inquiry and curriculum studies, said that does not mean Illinois’ Latino students haven’t had the same experiences during the pandemic as other regions’ Latinos.
“They are having to take up responsibilities at home, things like childcare, things like they have younger siblings that were attending school during remote learning,” Pulido said. “They sometimes would have to supervise siblings, which meant that then they couldn’t be in class and now that we’ve returned to on campus classes, some students still have some of that responsibility, which makes it harder for them to be in school.”
Emily Labandera of the national organization Excelencia in Education said the particulars of Latino students’ lives requires institutions of higher education to examine the support systems they are offering.
“Latino students present a post-traditional student profile, as we say, at Excelencia, where they might be first gen or working while enrolled,” Labandera said. “We can think about institutions understanding their student population and considering how they’re retaining their students. What support services are they supplying? Are they supporting their students financially during this time? Because we’re seeing that the loss of income, certainly financial disruptions.”
“These are students who commute to schools, have familial obligations,” said Ines Sahagun-Bahena, director of National Louis University’s Centro de Excelencia. “They work and they take care of their communities. So we need to support them in that lens.”
Sahagun-Bahena recommends that all institutions follow the lead of Hispanic-serving institutions when it comes to recruiting and retaining Latino students.
“Hispanic-serving institutions have pivoted to make sure that they listen and learn from the students and their families. They’re going back to those initiatives and strategies that proved effective,” Sahagun-Bahena continued. “They are [performing] outreach to their students and their families in their preferred language and in their communities, they’re expanding their support systems on campus to make sure that they continue to address the digital divide, help support basic needs and mental health, wellbeing, and food insecurity, and addressing tuition costs.”
And retaining and attracting Latino students is something all educational institutions should be concerned about, added Pulido.
“I think that if we are thinking about the future of higher ed, and even the future of the U.S., with the numbers that we have currently our future is really going to be determined by the future of Latinos,” Pulido said.