Hispanics and higher education

Hispanic enrollment at the University lags, but hopefully this trend will change.

Luis Ruuska

A recent KSTP investigation showed Hispanic enrollment at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is about 3 percent, lagging far behind the national average of 16.9 percent.

This is a less than 1 percent increase from 2011.

These dismal numbers, unfortunately, should come as no surprise. The University has had historically low Hispanic recruitment and enrollment.

The Minnesota Daily reported in 2011 that the University is at the bottom in Hispanic enrollment among Big Ten schools.

The University’s low numbers are a stark contrast to nationwide trends. The Pew Research Center reported in 2012 that 49 percent of Hispanic high school graduates ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college. This is higher than both black and white students nationwide, of which the number of students that enrolled in college after high school was 45 and 47 percent, respectively.

This rise in Hispanic enrollment in higher education is largely the result of the decline in Hispanic high school dropout rates, which have been the highest among all racial groups in the country. In 1972, the Hispanic high school dropout rate was about 34 percent, but in 2012, it was about 13 percent.

So if Hispanics are becoming more prevalent within higher education, why are they still such a small minority at the University?

Many point to Minnesota’s wide achievement gap as a possible answer. The U.S. Department of Education reported last year that Minnesota had the highest achievement gap with only 51 percent of Hispanic high school students graduating. The second biggest gap, in Washington, D.C., wasn’t even close at 30 percent.

Others point to the fact that Minnesota — and the Midwest as a whole — just do not have large Hispanic populations and therefore aren’t receiving applications.

The Hispanic population of Minnesota is only 4.9 percent, whereas Southwestern states like Texas and California have Hispanic populations of more than 38 percent. Higher out-of-state tuition costs and distance from Latin America, among other factors, undoubtedly deter Hispanic students from studying in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

However, recent University action suggests that it is seeking to broaden its outreach to Hispanic students.

In conjunction with the recently passed Minnesota Dream Act, the University can now not only recruit and enroll undocumented students but also offer them state grants, in-state tuition and private scholarships. It’s worth noting that Minnesota is only one of four states to have such a law.

Hopefully this effort will attract Hispanic students to our campus and offer additional diversity.

When applying to colleges my senior year of high school, the University and the Twin Cities stood out to me as beacons of diversity and tolerance. For the most part, I have seen this to be true. However, I have been both surprised and disappointed to find out how few people on campus there are from my own ethnic background.

Truthfully, that shouldn’t matter for me. After all, isn’t the best way to break down cultural and racial barriers by stepping outside of your own group and immersing yourself in another?

Regardless, I know that the Hispanic community has a lot to offer both the University and Twin Cities communities. I commend the University for its effort to add more Hispanic voices to ours. Despite our low Hispanic enrollment and unique achievement gap, I believe the trend is changing.