To Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a Look at Latino Students, Their Student Loans and College Costs
May 5, 2014

Let’s start with a clarification about Cinco de Mayo. It’s largely celebrated only in the US with the exception of Puebla, Mexico, where they celebrate a victory over the French. The US celebrations began among Mexican Americans in California in the Civil War era. It gained popularity in the 1940s and began to spread East. By the 1980s, it was popular all over the country and is marked by parties enjoyed by those of all nationalities and origins – not just Latinos or those from Mexican roots.

Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo to all Latino college students!

Today we’ll look at how young Latino Americans fare in the realm of higher education and how much student debt they accumulate. First, many Latino students never have the opportunity to attend college and this is concerning. A study by Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project showed that Latinos have the highest high school drop out rate at 17%, which is more than that of blacks and whites combined.

But it’s not a lack of interest in furthering education that drives this high rate. In fact, it’s a sense of responsibility about family obligations. Within the drop out number, there are two factions of Latino students: one that is born in America and one that immigrates here. The dropout rate is significantly lower for those that are born in the states.

Of those that do drop out, 74% say they had to help support their family, half said they struggled with English (this is related to immigrants rather than natural born Latino Americans) and 40% said they didn’t need education to pursue a career. The survey also examined interest in obtaining a Bachelor’s degree and the answers differed greatly between those born in the US versus immigrants. 60% of US-born Latinos say they want to obtain a Bachelor’s, while just 29% of immigrants aspire to a college degree.

Overall, degree attainment among Latinos is still comparatively low. As of 2012, research shows that 14% of Latinos over age 25 had a degree compared to 34% of whites. And for Latinos that do make it to college, student loans are a significant factor in the ability to pursue a degree. 67% of Latinos that go to college rely on student loans to attend according to research by the College Board. By comparison, 81% of black students must borrow to attend and 64% of white.

Overall, college enrollment and degree attainment among Latinos is climbing rapidly and this is promising. Of concern, though, is that a disproportionate number of Latino students are opting to attend private for-profit institutions that also target women, blacks and lower income students. Research out of Harvard shows that students at for-profit schools have lower degree completion rates, are saddled with greater student loan debts and struggle more with unemployment after graduation than do grads of public and non-profit institutions.

The takeaway is that Latino students are more likely than ever to pursue their Bachelor’s but, as with all students, they need to make good financial choices when selecting a college and should minimize debt when possible. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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