Hispanic students are enrolling in community colleges and four-year schools like never before - an increase of more than 10 percent in the past 25 years (Pew Research). Even better, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, number of Hispanic students who have completed college has almost doubled in the past 20 years. What could be driving these increases? The need to have postsecondary skills to be able to obtain 21st-century jobs is likely hitting home with many youth — including those of Hispanic background.

Still, Hispanic students face many challenges. For example, while about 35 percent of Hispanic students aged 18 to 24 are enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, that number is still low when compared to whites, Asians or blacks. Hispanics also may feel the need to enroll in the military or obtain a job right out of high school to help support their family — skipping college altogether.

*NOTE: We are using the term "Hispanic" for this article because it is the term used by the federal government when pulling demographic data. Readers who identify as Latino, Latina, Latinx, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, etc.: we apologize that this article does not use the term that is appropriate for your identity. However, we hope its information can be useful to you despite that.

Four Unique Challenges for Hispanic Students

1. Managing College Costs and Student Debt

Research shows that in 2016 approximately 39 percent of all dependent undergraduates come from families in or near poverty. For independent undergrads, the number is even higher - 67 percent in or near poverty in 2016. Not surprisingly, low-income students may be intimidated and discouraged by the cost of a college education and reluctant to take on college debt. Immediate financial needs may even cause students to drop out of school to support their families or themselves.

The cost factor is likely one of the reasons why Hispanic students are more likely to enroll at a more affordable community college instead of a four-year institution. While earning an associate degree can be a good start toward becoming more highly skilled and competitive in the job market, the long-term earning potential for those who have an associate degree is still less than for those who have a bachelor's degree or higher.

2. Being a First-Generation College Student

First-generation college students face various obstacles to success — including lack of role models. In fact, first-generation students are more likely to enroll for college when their parents completed a high school diploma. Moreover, youth whose parents completed a four-year degree are significantly more likely to enroll in college than those whose parents did not or whose parents completed little college.

Hispanic college students who are the first to enroll in college also need to be able complete tasks their parents never did. This includes navigating through the enrollment process, figuring out how to obtain financial aid and selecting a college program and coursework.

Lack of familial support is just one challenge to success; other challenges include:

  • College readiness
  • Financial stability
  • Racial under-representation

Of note, data has shown there are more first-generation Hispanic students than students of black, Asian or white background. This proves that these obstacles are not impossible to overcome! However, doing so can be very draining, and the experience can make students question whether earning their college degree is really worth it.

3. Having an Undocumented Legal Status

Hispanics who are undocumented have additional college hurdles. These undocumented students may have entered the U.S. without the proper paperwork or with false documentation, or may have entered legally as a non-immigrant but have papers that have since expired. Any of these situations can result in deportation.

However, most undocumented students have lived in the country much of their lives, possibly brought in at a young age by their parents. Many know English and have attended school in the U.S. since an elementary age. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was a program created by the federal government that allowed undocumented youth to obtain a driver's license and not be threatened with deportation; however, the program was rescinded in 2017.

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), another governmental initiative, provided a way for undocumented students to attend college and to work toward legal status. The bill was never approved by Congress; however, California adopted its own DREAM Act, allowing undocumented students who meet certain provisions to be eligible for:

  • Financial aid
  • In-state tuition
  • Certain grants and scholarships

This said, only eligible non-citizens can apply for federal financial aid using the FAFSA form. This includes people with Permanent Resident Cards or who have certain designations, such as "Refugee" or "Asylum Granted." In California, there are more options: "Dreamers" can apply for state financial aid using California's Dream Act Application.

4. Frequently Changing Locations

Migrant families face their own challenges when it comes to higher education. Migrant families are families that move across national or state boarders in order to obtain work. They often find seasonal employment on farms, ranches or fields. Members of migrant families may not stay in one place long enough to complete a college course or degree program. However, online college programs can be completed regardless of location. For migrant families who have access to technology, an online program could help in obtaining a diploma, certificate or degree program, which could help in earning better work.

Language barriers can be another issue for migrant families, but ESL (English as a Second Language) programs are available in many public K-12 schools. Even adult learners can gain knowledge online through free English courses, such as those offered through edX. Although migrant families may struggle with access to technology, free use of computers may be available through public libraries — without need of a library card, in some locations.

Opportunities for Hispanic Students through Online Education

As mentioned above, online education can be a way for Hispanic students to access higher education. In fact, more than 5.9 million students took at least one online course in 2015, indicating this is a popular option. Online learning may be preferred over campus-based education for one essential reason: it enables students to complete coursework, study and do assignments from their home, work site or other location — or all of these at different times. Online education has other benefits as well, including:

Not only are college programs available online, there also are K-12 programs available online, too. Parents in migrant families may be able to provide their children with education even if their children are in a transient situation.

Hispanic-Focused Programs and Initiatives

Various initiatives are available to assist Hispanic students in gaining higher educational opportunities. At a broad level, these behind-the-scenes initiatives are sources of funding and support for individual institutions, helping them to support learning outcomes for Hispanic students. Many of these are federal-, state- or foundation-based programs, though some narrower initiatives are available through individual schools (like Marquette University's initiative to be defined as an Hispanic-Serving Institution). Three of these national-focused initiatives include the:

Scholarships and Grants for Hispanic Students



Organizations and Other Resources for Hispanic Students

The next section on financial aid for Hispanic students offers association and organizational resources that may help students with enrolling in, preparing for or succeeding in college. These include resources for Hispanic students, undocumented workers and other types of learners.

Resources for Hispanic students

Resources for Undocumented Students

Resources for Migrant Families

Resources for ESL Students

Resources for First-Generation Students

Finding Resources on Google and Other Search Engines

This article can't cover all the possible options for finding financial aid for Hispanic students. If you want to find everything there is to offer, you're going to need to do some research of your own. However, we can give you a few tips for how to get started. Try typing the following terms into a search box:

From there, refine your search using similar keywords and other names, words and phrases that pop up as you research. Good luck!