Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Despite a rise in Latinos going to college, access is still uneven

More Latino students than ever are moving through high school to the doorstep of college, challenging higher education to adapt to a new demographic reality.

Striving to climb the social ladder, these young Americans are rapidly reshaping the marketplace for college recruiting. They are less affluent than others and less likely to have parents with college degrees, and they are finding the gates to college open unevenly.

Hundreds of colleges and universities in recent years have become magnets for Latino students. Others, including the most prestigious, appear ill-equipped to find and serve a population that often needs significant support in the long journey from application to graduation.

Two University of California campuses illustrate that divide; at UC-Riverside in Southern California, 40 percent of the 20,000 undergraduates are Latino. They are earning bachelor’s degrees at a rate equal to white classmates and well above the national average.

Most come from low-income homes and are among the first in their families to attend college. Teresa Cortazo, a hotel housekeeping supervisor, fought back tears one fall day as she dropped off her daughter Emily at UC-Riverside. “She’s achieved what I haven’t,” the mother said.

The renowned UC flagship in Berkeley, on the other hand, has struggled to enroll a student body that reflects the state population. More than half of public schoolchildren in California are Latino, but the share at UC-Berkeley in 2016-2017 was 14 percent, 8 points lower than the share at rival UCLA.

The challenge extends well beyond California. The number of Latino students graduating from public high schools nationwide rose more than 60 percent over the past decade, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education estimates, and that surge is projected to continue through 2025.