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Latino Students Underrepresented at Most Public Colleges

Regions Region IV-W Latinx/a/o
February 13, 2020 Precious Porras University of Kansas

Even though Latinx are the second largest racial group in the United States, they have the lowest college attainment rates. Therefore, it is critical that this particular population be studied to determine proper interventions that may help increase their success. The researchers chose to focus on public institutions who “because they enroll nearly 75 percent of the country’s undergraduates and produce nearly 70 percent of undergraduate degree earners (pg 2).”

 This is a brief summary of the Education Trust reportBroken Mirrors II: Latino Student Representation at Public State Colleges and Universities. This report analyzed public institutions in 44 states with at least 15,000 Latino adults who are residents. The study found that, when compared with states' proportions of Latino residents, Latino students are underrepresented at both community and technical colleges and at four-year institutions in most states.


NASPA IV-W States in the Study


Attainment Rate/State Ranking



12.9% (43/50)



22.2% (19/50



18.6% (35/50)



26.4% (9/50)



15.2% (41/50)

New Mexico


23.2% (15/50)

North & South Dakota


Data not provided



15.8% (40/50)



23.2% (14/40)

Key Metrics & Findings


Key Finding

  • Latinos are underrepresented at community and technical colleges in 40 of the 44 states we examined (or 90 percent).
  • Although earning a bachelor’s degree is the surest way for Latinos to attain greater upward mobility and economic security, community and technical colleges remain crucial in helping Latino residents who have had less access to a formal education gain a foothold in postsecondary education.
  • Latino undergraduates are underrepresented at public four-year institutions in 33 of the 44 states, including Colorado, where 15% or more of the residents are Latino
  • Nine states (including Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska) have double-digit gaps between the shares of Latino and White graduates who are awarded a bachelor’s degree
  • Latinos are underrepresented among associate degree and bachelor’s degree earners in all 44 statesAlthough all states have room to improve, Florida and New Mexico stand out among states with large Latino populations as having higher marks on both associate degree earner and bachelor’s degree earner representation.
  • While Latino students in 18 of the 37 states we examined have equitable access to selective public institutions, the vast majority of Latino undergraduates at public four-year institutions are concentrated in eight states where they have substantially less access to selective colleges and universities than their White peers.
  •  In 15 of 44 states, which are home to roughly two-thirds of Latinos without a college degree, Latino students are more substantially underrepresented at four-year universities than at community and technical colleges. These states include California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and New Jersey, which have sizable Latino populations and lower performance scores at public four-year institutions than at community and technical colleges.
  • Most states had bachelor’s representation scores ranging from the 50s to mid 70s. However, four states (Utah, Nebraska, Connecticut, and Kansas) had extremely low scores, ranging from 43 to 49.
  • Although underrepresentation is extremely prevalent among both associate and bachelor’s degree earners, it is slightly more severe among associate degree recipients (state average of 59 vs. state average of 64).

Why is this happening?

Structural Racism is the most prevalent reason for these numbers. According to the report, “most Latino children and young adults were born here and are U.S. citizens, 16 discrimination and hostility towards Latinos born elsewhere — especially those who are undocumented — is particularly problematic (pg. 20)”

Latino K-12 students receive far less support than their White peers

  • Many attend segregated, high-poverty schools,18 with less effective and less experienced teachers,19 low expectations and limited access to advanced coursework and higher and harsher levels of discipline
  • districts serving large percentages of Black, Latino, and Native American students get $1,800 less per stud

The rising cost of college can be a obstacle for Latino

  • Latino students have eight times less wealth, on average, than their White counterparts
  • This cost issue is compounded for undocumented Latinos, who are ineligible for federal student aid24 and some tuition and fee reductions, such as in-state tuition, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Lack of resources

  • While two-year colleges often have low tuition, they generally have fewer resources and more students — making it harder to finish
  • Latinos at four-year institutions are more likely to graduate than those at community colleges, but barely half of the former finish within six years

Questions for consideration

Below are some of the questions for state and postsecondary education leaders and advocates to help them focus their efforts on areas of need while pursuing educational justice. You can see the full list within the report.

  1. To what extent are Latino students in your state attending equitably funded?
  2. Are public institutions in your state using unbiased and equitable criteria to assess student talent and ability, and how can systemic social and educational inequities — which more frequently affect Latinos — receive more consideration in college admissions decisions?
  3. What has your state done to create postsecondary opportunities for Latino residents who are negatively impacted by barriers and discrimination related to immigration status? For instance, do undocumented immigrants have access to in-state tuition and taxpayer supported financial aid?
  4. Are public institutions in your state working together to create seamless pathways for students at community and technical colleges who wish attend four-year colleges and graduate with a bachelor’s degree?
  5. Are there disparities in per-student funding that result in fewer dollars going to institutions that serve large shares of Latino students, and how have prior cuts to state support for higher education disproportionately hurt these institutions?
  6. What have public institutions in your state done to create a welcoming culture and climate for Latino students? Have these institutions successfully recruited, hired, and retained diverse faculty, staff, and administrators who mirror the racial and ethnic demographics of your state?
  7. What data and equity-minded accountability measures are needed to ensure that public institutions are effectively using their resources to graduate Latino students at higher rates and to ensure that Latino residents are equitably represented among degree earners in your state?