Each year, more and more Latinos are choosing to pursue a postsecondary education. Latinos pursuing a postsecondary education are vital to our nation’s economic, political and social future. Simply making the choice to postsecondary degree, however, is not enough. An overwhelming number of Latinos that start a degree do not finish. We need to ensure that Latinos not only enter, but also succeed in postsecondary education.
An important, and often overlooked aspect of ensuring college completion begins before students ever take a class—the postsecondary choice process. The choice process is a complex journey that often requires students to know about what kind of program they want to pursue, what they need to do to get in and how they will pay for it. Latinos often embark on this journey without this critical information, which leads them to make the wrong postsecondary choice. In order to reverse this cycle, we need to need to make sure that Latinos have the right information, in the right format, and are guided by the right people.
The Right Information
Data that determines a student’s success in postsecondary and beyond is vital to college choice process. Information focused on access to higher education, such as admission requirements, major requirements and financial aid is important but only tell a portion of the story. Postsecondary completion rates underscore an institution’s commitment to student success. For example, if institutions have success in graduating Latinos, it is likely that students will feel supported in their path to a postsecondary degree. With a majority of Latinos enrolling in community colleges, it is critical to understand how many and how often students successfully complete a transfer to a four-year institution. Information on where an institutions’ graduates are employed tells a perspective student how quickly and how likely they can secure full-time employment upon graduation.
The Right Format
Simply having the right information is not enough. Data have to be in a format that are accessible and easy-to-understand. For Latino students, it is important that this information is presented in a format that allows them to easily compare similar institutions across key metrics. Ranking systems like the US News and World Report are inherently flawed and in many instances Latinos do not know they exist. More importantly, however, the current systems are not tailored for Latinos, who are more likely than their peers to be first-generation and low-income students. This past week, President Obama released his much anticipated and highly controversial rating system. The ambitious initiative continues a long line of attempts to help provide clear, concise postsecondary information to students and parents. With a focus on college accessibility for low-income students, affordability, academic progress and employment after colleges, this system attempts to capture the right information in the right format.
The Right People
Without the right people to help guide the college choice process for young Latinos, data —no matter what the format— is useless. Mentors are critical to help ensuring that students are prepared for and succeed in college. Armed with the right information, mentors can motivate students and ensure that they make the best choice for them and their families. First-generation college graduates, can provide additional information to perspective students on their postsecondary experiences. This information, in some instances, is the most important of all as it can help Latinos gain the cultural capital that will set them up for success in postsecondary education and beyond.
We all have a role to play in helping Latinos make the best postsecondary choice. Advocates and policymakers can continue to their work to ensure that we have the right data, and in the right format to help low-income and minority students make their choices. Mentors from various backgrounds can encourage students think about why this information is important and share their experiences on the obstacles to completing a postsecondary degree. This combination will help more Latino students not only enter but also succeed in college. The future of our nation depends on it.
Amilcar Guzmán lives in the Washington D.C. area and works for CASA de Maryland. He is currently a Ph.D student at the University of Maryland and writes about Latinos and education, college access, success and student loan debt. You can follow him @AmilcarGuzman1.