Senior night in high school sports is a time to recognize graduating students and their accomplishments. At the pre-game celebration for our local girls soccer team, players were honored with a bouquet of flowers while escorted to center field by their parents. Honors and activities are announced for each player, culminating with where they will be attending college in the fall. It was no surprise that each player from our academically ranked high school was heading to a four-year institution including several research universities and prestigious private colleges.
Fast-forward a week to an opportunity to attend another senior night, in a small town 40 miles from our small university city. Only this time as each player is introduced, the future plans are predominantly for community college. Only two of the twenty players were planning to attend a 4-year college or university. And 17 of the twenty players were Latina.
Why the difference? Demographics and privilege are most certainly a factor. Our small city is 85% White with 3% of persons identifying as Hispanic or Latino/a compared to a town where 35% of the population is Hispanic or Latino/a. The Latino population has grown dramatically in the town over the last decade with the addition of a new meat packing plant. These backbreaking low-wage jobs are attractive steady work for the mostly of Mexican-origin immigrants moving into Iowa.
College enrollment of U.S. Hispanic students surpassed that of White students for the first time in 2012. In contrast, the number of Hispanics completing four-year degrees only accounted for 9% of young adults. Hispanic students continue to be less likely to enroll in a four-year college or attend college full-time.
Our university student success committee has spent significant discussion time on Who Gets to Graduate? While formulating models for student persistence, we review many variables involved in graduating the students on our campus where Hispanic and Latino/a students make up the largest non-majority population. Our students of all ethnicities are academically motivated, but are frequently working class and first-generation, which sometimes translates to not being prepared for the rigor of higher education at a research university.
So the question becomes not only who gets to graduate, but also who gets to enroll?