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:
- Savings in time by not having to commute to and from campus (and walking to class from that distant parking lot!)
- Savings in gas money, wear and tear on a vehicle, or in taking a bus or other type of transportation to school
- Access to library, academic advising and, in some cases, tutoring online
- In-state tuition for some online programs
- Access to diploma, certificate, degree and even advanced education at a school that is located far from 'home'
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:
- Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Division: Developed through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education, this program makes grant funding available to postsecondary institutions nationwide to expand the educational opportunities available to Hispanics. Funding through HSI is used to strengthen offerings such as facilities, services or programs for Hispanic learners.
- Educational Excellence Initiative for Hispanics:Created in 1990 by then-President George H.W. Bush, this initiative addresses educational disparities in education, aiming to provide more opportunities to Hispanics and to improve their educational outcomes. Since its founding, the initiative has received continual support from Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump.
- Hispanic Higher Education Research Collective: Launched in 2004 by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, with funding from Educational Testing Services (ETS), this initiative has an aim of supporting Hispanic-related research and research partnerships with agencies, foundations and policy-makers. The collective has researched information on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), which are schools or institutions that have a student body that is at least 25 percent Latino.
Scholarships and Grants for Hispanic Students
- Hispanic Scholarships Fund:Designed to help Hispanic students earn a college education at an accredited nonprofit institution, these scholarships are available to high school graduates, undergraduates, transfer students or graduate students. Amounts range from $500 to $5,000 and are awarded based on merit and need.
- NBCUniversal/ League of United Latin American Citizens Scholarships:Available to help Latino students who are interested in the entertainment or media industries, 10 different scholarships are awarded in the amount of $5,000 to rising sophomores and juniors enrolled in an accredited institution. Half of the amount is paid in the fall and the other half is paid in the spring. The scholarships are not renewable.
- META Foundation Scholarships: These scholarships for Hispanic students require enrollment in an accredited college. META's Platinum Scholarship offers up to $6,000 over four years to a freshman accepted at a four-year school. The Gold Scholarship, offering up to $2,000 payable over four years, is available to community college students planning to transfer to a four-year program or students who are already enrolled in a four-year program.
- National Action Council for Minorities in Education: NACME grant awards are available to minority students majoring in computer science or engineering and attending a NACME Partner University. Applicants need to have at least a cumulative 2.8 GPA. Grant amounts vary based on the partnering university, and payments are split.
- Page Educational Foundation Grants: These grants are available to Minnesota high school graduates who plan to attend a postsecondary school in Minnesota. Established to address the achievement gap for students of color in Minnesota, these grants for Hispanic students offer $1,000 to $2,500 annually. Applicants can be between the ages of 18 and 35 and may be able to renew their grant.
- José Martí Challenge Grant:This Hispanic grant is available to students in Florida who plan to attend a postsecondary school in the state — either a public institution or an eligible private school. Applicants can apply either for undergraduate or graduate grant funding, but must show a financial need of at least $2,000 on their FAFSA application.
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
- ASPIRA Association: Created to support Hispanic youth, this national nonprofit is focused on education and leadership development. ASPIRA sponsors career selection and pre-college programs for students that include assistance with college visits, college admission and scholarship applications. Educational counseling is also available for college students, and ASPIRA website resources are accessible for both parents and students.
- Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities: Students who join this association can find opportunities for paid internships, special rates on Southwest Airlines for students who need to travel to obtain their education, conferences for addressing career development and growth, and more. Members also have access to webinars and HACU's electronic newsletter, The Voice of Hispanic Higher Education.
- American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, Inc.: This association makes yearly conferences, leadership opportunities and various awards available to its members. It also sponsors a thesis and dissertation competition and commissions scholarly papers.
Resources for Undocumented Students
- TheDream.US: This national organization provides resources for undocumented students, awards scholarships to Dreamers, and partners with more than 75 colleges and universities to promote achievement and success among undocumented workers. Links to legal resources, educational resources and media resources are posted on the site.
- DREAMer Jobs Facebook Group: This Facebook page is geared toward Dreamer students and recent Dreamer graduates who are looking for employment. In addition to posts about employment, there also are posts about studies relating to the DACA school experience and upcoming fellowship opportunities.
- Latino Studies Program, Cornell: This university's website has many resources for undocumented students, including links to Hispanic scholarships, a college guide for undocumented students and a list of relevant links for undocumented, immigrant and refugee students.
Resources for Migrant Families
- Migrant Education Program: This program, run through the U.S. Department of Education, has a goal of helping migrant students be able to meet academic standards and to graduate with either a GED or high school diploma. Being prepared for citizenship, further learning experiences and employment opportunities are additional aims.
- National PTA: This national association advocates for the right of all children, regardless of immigration status, to receive a quality public education. Numerous resources are available on the site, including links to sites on immigration issues.
- Immigration Advocates Network: This network connects immigrant families to legal resources, important information, and other helpful resources. The site includes a nonprofit resource center and a pro bono resource center, as well as a list of news alerts related to immigration issues.
Resources for ESL Students
- ColorinColorado: This bilingual website for educators and families of ELL students features articles on college readiness, paying for college, financial aid, considering community college and more. Various articles, webcasts, book recommendations and web sources also are available, all geared toward the Latino learner.
- ESL Lounge: A grammar guide, available at the beginning, elementary, intermediate and advanced levels, as well as grammar exercises (including fill in the blank, multiple choice and matching) are posted for ELLs on this website. There also are listening and reading exercises that can help strengthen students' English skills.
- The National Education Association: The NEA hosts various resources for ELL families, including parent and teacher toolkits, steps to advocating for ELL learners and bilingual education.
Resources for First-Generation Students
- LatinoUCollege: Information on this website can help first-generation students learn more about financial aid, scholarships for Hispanics and scholarships for undocumented students. The nonprofit organization also hosts a First Gen Forward Program to support students once they are enrolled in college.
- Center for First Generation Success: Various news and blog posts tailored toward first-generation learners, as well as information on research and policy, are available on this website. Visitors can also learn about programs like First Forward, a recognition program for schools and institutions that is committed to first-generation student success.
- PNPI: Funded by the Lumina Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, PNPI features information for and about first-generation learners, including new policies, videos and podcasts.
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:
- Latino financial aid/scholarships/resources
- English language learner resources
- Latina/Latino resources
- Immigrant/migrant resources
- College for Mexicans
- College programs for Spanish speakers
From there, refine your search using similar keywords and other names, words and phrases that pop up as you research. Good luck!