Hispanic college students face challenges

By Vishakha Mathur


(Photo by Vishakha Mathur)

Daylin Dominguez did not want to go to school when he first arrived in the United States in 2013 with his elder brother and father. He said he just wanted to earn some money and send it back to Honduras to his mother, who couldn’t come with them.

“We know how we live over there, how life is hard to at least get a piece of bread every single day. So that was one of the reasons. I felt like I was wasting my time (in school),” Dominguez said.

Economic status is one of the many barriers that Hispanic students face while they are transitioning to college. But this barrier doesn’t just remain limited to the transition. It can continue even while they are attending college.  “Main issues that block students’ motivation from going to college is one, students have to work to support their families. A lot of these families are low-income family, so they are also bringing in food on the table,” said Abraham Sierra, college access and success coach at Sociedad Latina, a nonprofit organization that runs several programs providing access to college to young Hispanic students.

Increase in college enrollment rates among Hispanic

College admissions among Hispanic students increased by 24 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to a research conducted by Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank that studies various fields such as media, politics, Hispanic, social trends etc. The Hispanic population in college set a new record of being the largest minority group to enroll in college, accounting for 15 percent “of the overall enrollment of 12.2 million young adults in two- or four-year colleges in 2010.”

That research indicated this trend may be due to increased access to education. More and more Hispanic families are becoming dedicated to sending their children to college.

Challenges faced by Hispanics

The increasing rates of enrollment illustrate the desire to go to college and better access to education to be ready for higher education. However, it also points towards the challenges that these Hispanic students have overcome to succeed in college.

Like Dominguez, many Hispanic students face economic challenges as they approach high school graduation and transition to college.

“The decision to go to college is an entire family decision for our students. Whenever a young person goes to college, they still have responsibilities at home,”  said Lydia Emmons, director of college and career pathway at Sociedad Latina. . “It is not necessarily always an option for them to go to UMass Dartmouth or UMass Amherst. A lot of students do have to come back and contribute at home.”

But the economic challenge is not the only one they face. Their legal status makes a huge difference. Marianna Geraskina of El Centro Del Cardenal, an organization that helps out-of-school and high-risk youth in the Boston community, talks about her experiences with Hispanic immigrant students.

Even when Dominguez was able to keep up his 4.0 GPA while in high school, four institutions that  he applied to ended up rejecting his application for admission.

“I applied to four institutions but because of my legal status, I was not accepted…,” Dominguez said. “That hit me so hard, I felt like I shouldn’t even have applied to these institutions. I was kind of like disappointed in myself. Just did not know what to do after that.”

Dominguez said he was able to overcome his challenges posed by his economic and legal status by securing admission at North Shore Community College, which he said accepts students irrespective of their legal status and offers scholarships for them to pursue higher studies.

For Ana Caldelon, the challenge to going to college was language. She came from the Dominican Republic at the age of 15. Never having to use English before, she struggled in high school.

“When I came here, I did not know English. I did not know the language spoken here,” she said. “They pushed me back. I was supposed to be in 11th grade, and they put me in 10th grade,” Caldelon said.

With Spanish being the primary language of communication within Hispanic families, Hispanic students often have to go take remedial English classes to succeed in college. Emmons explains the structure of these classes.


Lack of fluency in English, legal status, and economic conditions continue to act as barriers for Hispanic students in getting through college. Their retention rates in college are lower than other ethnic or minority groups in higher education. A report by National Council of La Raza stated, “Slightly over half (51.9 percent ) of all Latino students complete bachelor’s degrees within six years, which is less than the completion rates in the same time period for Asian/Pacific Islanders (70.1 percent) and whites (62.5 percent).”