Early this year, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings released the report College Enrollment Disparities: Understanding the Role of Academic Preparation (2023). This report highlights an ongoing concern regarding the college enrollment of Black and Latina/o/x/é students at both two-year and four-year colleges. The problematic reality is that Latina/o/x/é students continue to enroll in college at the lowest rates, especially at four-year colleges, when compared to all other groups by race. Additionally, when analyzing recent NCES national data reports and comparing enrollment ratios of undergraduate and graduate/professional studies by race and ethnicity, Latina/o/x/é students enroll in graduate and professional studies at half the rate of all other groups. This pathway to graduate and professional studies is extremely important as research time and time again confirms that when medical doctors, educational leaders, lawyers and professors racially and linguistically reflect (look like and speak like) the communities we serve, it improves equity and decreases disparities for all. In other words, it matters to all when we have more Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o/x/é doctors, lawyers, educational leaders, and professors. Clearly, there is a significant demand for how we improve access and equity from K12 to undergraduate, graduate and professional studies.
However, there is hope, given what we know about inequities and how to address them. The Center on Children and Families at Brookings further analyzed college enrollment when controlling for Socioeconomic Status and College Preparation/Readiness indicators. These College Preparation/Readiness indicators are key to understanding inequities and knowing how to address and improve college enrollment directly, with known equity-based practices for Black and Latina/o/x/é students. The Brookings study found that when we directly support educational equity, through access and resources that improve outcomes - specifically those that increase high school GPA, math test scores, enrollment in advanced or highly advanced math, as well as enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses - these outcomes directly correlate with greater college enrollment rates. Encouragingly, this equity pathway demonstrates that when you make such academic preparation a priority and it is provided equally, Black and Latina/o/x/é high school students enroll in college at greater rates than Asian and White students. In fact, Black and Latina/o/x/é enrollment rates at four-year colleges combined are greater than Asian and White students combined when academic preparation is provided equally. This is critically important if we are to improve the educational pipeline.
Based on this critical understanding, at the September 12, 2023, convening of President Biden’s Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics, four initial recommendations were advanced for the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to present to President Biden. These four recommendations came from the Higher Education and HSI Committee of the Commission, which included Havidán Rodríguez, President of the University of Albany, SUNY, Teresa Leyba Ruiz, Senior VP and Chief Advocacy and Programs Officer at Education Forward Arizona and former President at Glendale Community College, Pedro Noguera, Dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, and myself Cristóbal Rodríguez, Associate Provost of Equity at Western Michigan University and Chair-elect of the Board of Directors of the American Association for Hispanics in Higher Education.
The first of these recommendations, which the entire Commission approved, supports expanding and elevating the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” Initiative by Secretary Miguel Cardona. This Initiative has three focus areas that promote academic excellence, improve learning conditions, and create pathways for global engagement. The second recommendation calls for increasing educational access, equity, and success specifically for two-year colleges, highlighting efforts to improve transfer to four-year colleges. It also includes promoting partnerships that provide financial support for dual enrollment programs and strategic, effective and successful pathway initiatives between K-12 and higher education. The third recommendation refers to advancing and creating effective and successful career pathways by promoting partnerships between higher education systems and industry, corporations and businesses to enhance opportunities for economic development and address critical shortages seen nationally. The fourth recommendation – essential for improving the entire educational pipeline - addresses the important demand for representation, particularly in expanding, strengthening and diversifying the academic leadership pipeline. This fourth recommendation is critical, as it acknowledges that there is extreme underrepresentation in school and district leadership, in medical and health careers, in legal advocacy, and especially among higher education faculty and its leaders. A national study of university and college presidents indicates not only a dearth of Hispanic/Latino representation at all levels of higher education, but also, in recent years, a drop in this representation. Therefore, the fourth recommendation specifically requests strengthening the academic pipeline by investing in equity, access, and success of Latina/o/x/é graduate and professional students, a thus supporting academic leadership pathways for Latina/o/x/é academics and scholars.
Based on what we know from successful educational equity practices, coupling the Latino educational pipeline at two extreme leaky points is an essential effort we must all address. Those leaky points are at the transitions from high school to college, and from undergraduate to graduate/professional studies. We know that early college and dual-enrollment programs between high schools and colleges are some of the best examples that directly improve college readiness, access and success for Latina/o/x/é students. Essentially, when high school students take more college-credit courses, not only does this directly inform college access and success, but it also saves students and their families from greater college costs. Not surprisingly, the same has been found with accelerated graduate/professional studies coursework. The more undergraduate students enroll in graduate/professional studies courses that transfer directly into their graduate program, the more likely they are to continue onto graduate and professional studies, which additionally saves students the costs of graduate studies that tend to get paid for by school loans.
In sum, coupling the Latino educational pipeline with pre-college and accelerated graduate programs indeed provides both equity and financial solutions for Latina/o/x/é students and families.
About the author:
Cristóbal Rodríguez, PhD., is Associate Provost of Equity at Western Michigan University, Chair-elect, Board of Directors, American Association for Hispanics in Higher Education, and Commissioner, President Biden’s Advisory Commission for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.