Friday, August 17, 2007
Why High-Achieving Hispanic Students Go to Hispanic U.: Report Sheds
Light on Their Choice of Colleges
By ELYSE ASHBURN
High-achieving Hispanic students often focus on location, cost, and
campus atmosphere, not prestige, in selecting their colleges, according
to a report due out today.
"The level of pragmatism these college students had in making decisions
was impressive," said Deborah A. Santiago, the report's author and vice
president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education, a
nonprofit policy group.
The report, "Choosing Hispanic-Serving Institutions: A Closer Look at LatinoStudents' College Choices [pdf]," is based on interviews with about 100
students and is not nationally representative. But it provides a window on why Hispanic undergraduates are heavily concentrated in the country's small cohort of Hispanic-serving institutions.
In 2003-4 those institutions [pdf] made up only 6 percent of American colleges and universities, but served almost half of Hispanic undergraduates.
Hispanic-serving institutions tend to be located in areas with large
Hispanic populations, are relatively inexpensive, and often have open
admissions. That makes them an appealing option for Hispanic students,
like those Ms. Santiago interviewed, who want to attend universities
that are close to home, relatively cheap, and accessible.
However, students said they were not attracted by the Hispanic-serving
designation, and few even knew that the distinction existed. An
institution is classified as Hispanic-serving, under federal guidelines,
if at least 25 percent of its students are Hispanic and 50 percent of
those are from low-income families.
The students interviewed for the report mostly received A's and B's in
high school, and now attend either Hispanic-serving or mainstream
universities. Many are the first in their families to go to college.
Flouting conventional wisdom, the students at Hispanic-serving
universities interviewed by Ms. Santiago often did not choose the most
selective institution that accepted them. Instead they were heavily
influenced by the sticker price of an education.
"A quote that really stuck with me, and we heard it over and over, was
this impression that, 'College is college, and as long as I'm motivated,
I can get a good education anywhere,'" Ms. Santiago said.
In contrast, Hispanic students at mainstream institutions were swayed by
academic reputation and were more likely to focus on financial-aid
packages than on the sticker price. Students at mainstream universities
also were more willing to take on debt.
While many Hispanic-serving institutions are excellent colleges, Ms.
Santiago said, higher-education officials must do a better job of making
sure Hispanic students consider the full range of options available to
them. In particular, prestigious institutions interested in attracting
top Hispanic students need to better explain financial-aid policies and
Dr. Frank Talamantes
Texas Tech Medical School at El Paso
El Paso, Texas 79902