Closing The Achievement Gap

Investing In The Educational Potential Of Latino Students


  • Support community and state organizations that provide resources and opportunities to Latino students throughout their educational journeys

  • Learn more about how you can get involved with LUCA here

By Gillian Hand

For many young adults across the country, higher education is often taken for granted. For teenagers in many underrepresented communities, however, this is not always the case. Latino students are a demographic facing a variety of obstacles to their education, often juggling numerous responsibilities while receiving minimal access to important information and resources. According to the United States Census Bureau, Latinos make up the largest minority group in the United States, expected to increase to 29% of the total population in 2060.[1] With an increase in the Latino student population correlated with this growth, high school dropout rates among Latino students are at an all-time low, with college enrollment increasing at a faster pace than any other ethnic group. However, the percentage of Latino students graduating with a college degree lags behind these otherwise encouraging figures.[2] Although one in four K-12 students is Latino, students in this demographic have produced lower records of educational attainment, indicating an uneven playing field that continues to compromise the opportunity and achievement of Latino youth.[3] 


A 2016 University of Minnesota study concluded that a third of the Latino student population grows up in poverty, with two-thirds coming from low-income households. This reality forces many young Latinos to play catch-up with other students around the country, embarking on their educational path already at a disadvantage.[4] Growing up in lower-income neighborhoods, these students often have to attend low-performing schools with less access to resources, support groups, and information. The skyrocketing student loan costs attributed to modern universities make it even more difficult for students to complete a degree at a post-secondary institution, often inhibiting them from pursuing higher education at all.[5]


In addition to these financial concerns, many Latino students are also the first in their family to seek a college education. The parents of first generation students often lack the time and knowledge needed to assist with the navigation of the college application and financial aid process, making it difficult for families to access the information and counseling needed to make informed college and career decisions.[6] Without needed support, these students struggle to find and pursue the best path toward higher education, keeping educational opportunity and achievement out of reach for far too many.


Another significant obstacle faced by Latino students is acculturation—the assimilation into American culture both in society and on campus. Latino youths frequently serve a far greater role in their households, often balancing responsibilities such as taking care of younger siblings and translating for parents who don’t speak English. In addition to these burdens that are uncommon among most other youth groups, many Latino young adults struggle to adjust to the new culture of the United States while they juggle the social and developmental challenges of growing up, often working to learn a new language themselves.[7] Numerous Latino students also face the psychological struggles of fearing for the safety of undocumented family members, burdens that stem from the Trump administration’s increasingly harsh policies toward immigration. In the modern political climate, Latino students often live in fear of deportation and worry that immigration services will gain information about their families, thus moving education even further out of reach.[8]


These obstacles to Latino students’ pursuit of higher education combine to produce the statistically disproportionate achievement gap. To even the playing field for this demographic of American society, federal and local efforts must prioritize educational services and provide these students with necessary academic opportunities and support. The National Education Association highlights an array of important steps that schools can take to improve opportunities for their Latino student population, including offering early childhood screenings for medical and social services, targeting resources on closing the gap, and providing stronger academic and social offerings such as tutors, mentors, role models, and peer support networks. Other essential changes include accessible adult education courses complemented with teachers and curriculums that “understand and capitalize on students’ culture, abilities, resilience, and effort”.[9]


One community organization aiming to address the achievement gap is Latino U College Access (LUCA), a non-profit agency serving first generation Latino students in Westchester County, New York. Encompassing the principles of education, advocacy, and collaboration, Latino U guides high school scholars and their families through the complicated college process, matching high-potential, low-income students with college coaches that help them navigate complex application and financial aid requirements. With opportunities such as essay and FAFSA workshops and networking with corporate partners and volunteers, LUCA exposes these promising students to educational and internship opportunities they never dreamed possible.[10] Latino U is just one example of a growing network of community-based efforts to invest in the potential of Latino students; going forward, similar organizations as well as school and state programming will be imperative in the movement to make higher education more accessible for this demographic.


Latino undergraduate enrollment has more than doubled in recent years, increasing from 22% to 37% between 2000 and 2015. Numerous institutions across the country have seen the development of new programs focused on broadening campus diversity such as the creation of Latino leadership programs, hiring more representative faculty, and expanding cultural programming.[11] However, there is still a long way to go until all Latino students receive the support they need to reach their educational potential. Policymakers should prioritize the creation and implementation of services that support Latino students, ensuring higher levels of college completion and educational achievement.



[1] Field, Kelly. “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 14 May 2018,

[2] Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Richard Fry. “Fewer Hispanic Young Adults 'Disconnected' from School, Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 17 Aug. 2015,

[3] Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

[4] Davila, Silvia Alvarez de, and Cari Michaels . “Falling Behind: The Challenges Facing Latino Education in the U.S.” CEHD Vision 2020, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 28 Apr. 2016,

[5] Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

[6] Carnevale, Anthony P, and Megan L Fasules. “Latino Education and Economic Progress: Running Faster but Still Behind.” Executive Summary, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2017,

[7] Alvarez de Davila and Michaels, “Falling Behind: The Challenges Facing Latino Education in the U.S.”

[8] Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

[9] “Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gaps.” NEA, National Education Association ,

[10] “Latino U College Access.” Latino U College Access, 20 Sept. 2019,

[11]  Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”