Over half of Latino students considered leaving college last year

A Gallup poll found that over half of Latino college students considered leaving college last year, a steep increase from 2020.

For decades, Hispanic enrollment at four-year colleges and universities has been on the rise, and it saw a new high in 2022. But difficulties, particularly with affordability and accessibility, are increasingly making it hard for Latino students to remain enrolled, according to a Lumina Foundation-Gallup “State of Higher Education” poll.

Around 52% of Hispanic college students polled considered stopping their coursework for at least one term last year, a 10-point percentage increase from 2020. Comparatively, around 43% of Black, 36% of white and 30% of Asian students considered the same.

Researchers wrote that the primary reasons why Latino students struggle to remain enrolled are similar to students of other backgrounds, namely the cost of attendance, stress, mental health and difficulty of the material, among others.

However, Latino students were more likely than any other group to report that child care or adult caregiving responsibilities were part of why they were considering dropping out of college or university, according to Gallup.

Barriers to Latino student retention

Many Latino students are approaching higher education in a different way than what people assume is the regular college experience.

“Latinos represent what we call a very post-traditional student body,” Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “and that’s opposed to this traditional student that is going straight from high school to college, lives on campus, works less than 20 hours, is college ready and finishes in four years.”

In other words, many Latino college students are balancing full-time work, among other factors, which can make college completion more of a challenge.

And it’s not just Latinos who are approaching college in this way — data from the U.S. Department of Education found that the vast majority of undergraduate students, around 74% in the 2011-2012 academic year, are now considered nontraditional.

Santiago added that higher education has not yet “pivoted to better serve these students.”

Data from Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit focused on increasing Latino college completion, found that around 44% of Latino students are first-generation, or the first in their family to attend college or university.

Avian Jimenez, 21, is currently on leave from college but is considering leaving altogether, citing financial concerns and a lack of ability to keep up with his peers. He said that, as a first-generation student, navigating college was challenging.

“Having my father teach me how to work with my hands and do things like that, it’s kind of driven me to go towards that direction,” Jimenez said. “He didn’t really have the support growing up to go to school, or my mother didn’t really have the support to go to college herself, and we all end up following our parents’ footsteps.”

His twin sister, Avani, has a different experience. Currently a senior at Rutgers University, she is confident that she wants to graduate college and become a writer. Despite her eagerness to earn her degree, she said she worries about affording college.

“I have been balancing both taking over a full load of courses while doing multiple jobs,” Avani Jimenez said. “What’s stressful is having to work, but also knowing that I would have to take out loans for my school.”

She added that a primary motivation to finish college is to financially support her family. “Seeing how they struggle living paycheck to paycheck makes me feel like, ‘No, I have to do this, and I can help them,’” she said.

Institutions are aiming for Latino student retention

In September, 14 colleges and universities earned the seal of Excelencia for their efforts to enroll and retain Latino students in higher education. Excelencia in Education awards seals to institutions that “demonstrate intentionality and impact in serving Latino students while serving all.”The University of Central Florida — a seal of Excelencia-awarded university and one of just three Hispanic-serving institutions in the state — runs the LEAD Scholars Academy, a select group fostering students’ leadership skills, which has contributed to higher retention rates for Latino students compared to the general UCF student body.

“It’s my feeling that having a stronger sense of belonging and community through all of these different opportunities that LEAD scholars have helps students achieve these high retention and graduation goals,” Stacey Malaret, the director of the LEAD program at UCF, told NBC News.

Since 1969, the Educational Opportunity Program has served many first-generation, low-income students in the California State University system. Danielle Chambers is the director of Cal State LA’s EOP, which serves a majority-Latino group who are often nontraditional college students.

“It’s the holistic approach. While you’re here on campus, we do attend to your academic success, but we know that it’s important that you have a sense of belonging,” Chambers told NBC News. “The folks who work at EOP are from the community that Cal State LA serves. It’s important that our students see themselves in the EOP staff,” she added.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com