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TALLAHASSEE, FL — While the number of Latinos entering college in Florida and across America is increasing, new research shows many lag behind in completing their studies compared with other student groups.
A report from Unidos U.S. and the University of North Carolina finds an aversion to debt is the main reason for the completion gap between Latinos and students of other ethnic groups. But Deborah Santiago, CEO at Excelencia in Education, said the study finds Latinos who enroll in community and four-year colleges also face significant cultural and financial obstacles to earning a degree.
“There are a lot of institutional barriers, or opportunities for institutions to change the way that they serve this population, rather than expecting that it’s the students themselves that need to change in order to meet the goals that we have,” Santiago said.
The study found a high percentage of Latinos entering college are the first in their families to enroll, and in addition to financial pressures, they often feel an obligation to help support their families.
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Santiago said nationally, 22% of Latino students who enroll in college complete their education, compared with 46% for non-Latino Americans.
“Too often I hear this expression that, ‘It’s our culture that creates a barrier,'” she said. “The assumption is that there’s an either/or – that we forgo our families to serve our own needs and success, rather than it’s the family unit that’s engaged in the educational experience.”
Latinos surveyed listed the main reasons for not graduating as running out of money to finish college, being unable to take on more debt, a sudden change in finances or returning to work to support their family.
“There are some signs there that we have to prioritize, to the extent that we’re having to choose between education and economic sustainability for our family,” she said. “Those are hard choices public policy and institutions of higher education have a role in trying to address.”
The report recommends colleges adopt programs to assist Latino students in navigating the financial landscape and adjusting to the academic and social challenges they’ll face in completing their studies.