From Selectivity to Success: Latinos at Selective Institutions

Every year, we see more and more Latino students graduating from colleges and universities across the nation. We are definitely making significant strides in higher education.

Though in taking a closer look, we found that only 12 percent of Latino college students are enrolled at the most selective institutions across the nation. What caught our attention is that at those selective institutions, Latino graduation rates are significantly higher than less selective schools. So while the number of Latino students getting into these top colleges is still low, the ones that do attend are finding greater success and graduating at higher rates.

How can we see an increase in Latino students attending these top colleges? It’s important to learn how these institutions contribute to Latino student success.

Our Co-Founder, Gilbert Cisneros decided to take a closer look by funding a research study through The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation. This research was conducted by Excelencia in Education and presented at a Capitol Hill Briefing in Washington D.C. this month.

The report, “From Selectivity to Success: Latinos at Selective Institutions,” examines the profile of Latino students at the most selective institutions in the United States and seeks to understand what those institutions are intentionally and specifically doing that support Latino student success.

For starters, what is a selective institution? Think of it as one of the top colleges in the nation. The research describes a selective institution as being recognized by their competitive admissions, low admittance rates, higher cost to attend, and the prestige garnered from achievements of alumni.

This research focused on four of the most selective institutions in California, including two public and two private institutions, they included:  The University of California-Santa Barbara, the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of La Verne.

So what are these top colleges doing differently from other schools to recruit, retain and graduate Latino students? These higher education colleges and universities spend significantly greater resources on students than less selective institutionsExcelencia’s research shows that these institutions invest significantly in the instructional, academic support, and student services of their students and have institutional practices intentionally serving Latino students.

The report finds that these four institutions have made an effort to target student support services, expand financial opportunities, rely on ethnic centers, provide research opportunities and strong connections with school alumni, all as useful strategies in retaining Latino students.

Let’s examine each one.

  • Student support services: Student support services are an important component of Latino student success. Through student success centers, schools provide tutoring, mentoring, and math and writing workshops for students who need additional academic support.
  • Expanded financial aid opportunities: Many students need financial aid to attend college. These universities recognize the financial needs of the students they serve, and as a result, financial aid opportunities have been expanded to increase student retention and completion.
  • Ethnic and cultural departments on campus: By supporting community and alumni efforts targeting Latinos, these departments help foster a sense of community for Latino students, as a way for students to receive academic and personal support from office staff, peers, and alumni. These centers recognize the importance families have on the lives and success of their Latino students, and include them in new student orientations so that parents have a better understanding of the campus, financial aid, and academic advisement. Two examples of these ethnic departments include The Chicana/o and Latina/o Student Development Office at UC Berkeley and El Centro Chicano y Latino at Stanford.
  • Undergraduate research opportunities: Research opportunities on these campuses allow Latino students to develop research and professional skills, and to be more competitive for post-graduation opportunities.
  • Connections with alumni: This type of outreach to alumni has created support networks for Latino students while enrolled and has expanded opportunities for them to find employment after graduation. These schools engage with prospective students by outreach to their local community. For example, at all four institutions, current students go back to their community’s high school to recruit prospective students. This increases awareness of the campus and shows high school students that the university is indeed a reachable option.

While there has been an increase in attendance at these top colleges, very few of the most selective institutions have a high concentration of Latino enrollment. The percentage is still low when compared to other groups. To close the Latino achievement gap, students should apply to and attend the universities and colleges that they are academically qualified for.

There is promise in these findings and we have every confidence that our students can achieve this. Selective schools are seeing an increase in the college-readiness of Latino students. They are becoming more academically prepared for college and, increasingly, enrolling at more of these top colleges.

Now that we are aware of the resources and support that are available at such top colleges, students and their families, along with the guidance of school staff and programs like ours at Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera, can continue to focus on forging a path for our students to study at the best schools in the nation. The resources and opportunities are there and they deserve a seat to rank among the best.

For a deeper dive,  here is the Capitol Hill Briefing held recently: