This is the first of two articles exploring the challenges facing Hispanic learners enrolled in education and training programs after high school in the U.S., based on results from the recent Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study.
Remaining enrolled in college was just as tough for U.S. students in 2022 as it was in 2021, but a recent Lumina Foundation-Gallup study shows Hispanic students struggled to stay in college more than students of any other race or ethnicity.
Fifty percent of Hispanic students currently enrolled in a post-high school education program found it “very difficult” or “difficult” for them to remain in their program. Fewer Black students (40%) and White students (37%) reported having this much difficulty staying in their program.
These findings, from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study, conducted Oct. 26 to Nov. 17, 2022, highlight the lingering challenges that contributed to the abrupt end of college enrollment gains for Hispanic students when the pandemic arrived.
Between 2009 and 2019, Hispanic college enrollment numbers rose more than 45%. Hispanic adults were one of two demographic groups that saw the number of enrollees rise in that time frame, along with Asian adults. But between 2019 and 2021, Hispanic college enrollment in the U.S. dropped approximately 7% -- with declines double that rate at community colleges.
Over Half of Hispanic Students Considered Stopping Out
Even with pandemic-era restrictions lifting and concerns about COVID-19 receding, students in post-high school programs were, if anything, more likely in 2022 than they were in 2020 or 2021 to have considered withdrawing from their program for at least one term.
This was even more true for Hispanic students, who, as they have since 2020, continued to be the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group to report considering “stopping out.” Over half of Hispanic students (52%) in 2022 said that in the past six months, they had considered stopping their coursework for at least one term.
This figure is up 10 percentage points from the first year of the pandemic, which is a troubling trajectory given the historically lower undergraduate completion rates among Hispanic students in the U.S.
Caregiving Responsibilities Among Reasons for Stopping Out and Staying Enrolled
The chief reasons Hispanic students gave for why they considered stopping out are generally similar to those from students of other racial or ethnic backgrounds: emotional stress, personal mental health reasons, cost, inflation and difficult coursework.
However, nearly half of Hispanic students (47%) said they were caregivers or parents, which is slightly higher than students in any other racial or ethnic group, and these added pressures may at least partly explain why more Hispanic students considered stopping out.
In fact, Hispanic students who considered stopping out were slightly more likely than those in other groups to say they considered it because of child care or adult caregiving responsibilities. Thirteen percent of Hispanic students said they considered stopping out to care for children, and 14% cited caring for an adult family member or friend.
When asked what factors allow them to stay enrolled, Hispanic students, like other students, named financial aid, confidence in the value of their program degree, enjoyment of the program, increased personal income, greater personal and work schedule flexibility, and wanting to finish their program as quickly as possible.
However, consistent with the relatively high percentage of Hispanic students who are caregivers or parents, they are slightly more likely than students overall (24% vs. 19%, respectively) to say child care needs being worked out is a reason they are able to stay enrolled.
Hispanic Students Not Highly Confident They Will Complete Their Program
At the same time that about half of Hispanic students found it difficult to stay enrolled in post-high school education programs and considered stopping out, less than half (48%) said they are very confident that they would finish their program. Hispanic student confidence is similar to that among Black students (50%) but trails that of White students (58%).
College enrollment trends from spring 2023 indicate that Hispanic students were the only major racial or ethnic group to see their enrollment share rise between 2022 and 2023 -- but still by less than 1%. The other groups continued to see their shares decline.
Some of this increase among Hispanic students reflects the rising number of colleges and universities designated as Hispanic-serving institutions, which triggers more funding for scholarship opportunities that help defray costs for Hispanic students and other underrepresented groups.
But even though Hispanic college enrollment appears to be rebounding, disruptions caused by the pandemic, such as to child care, exposed the fragility of many students’ ability to attend college. It’s important to understand why they may have been considering leaving their program a year ago -- and what factors may have compelled them to stay and complete their education.
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