"What are the struggles that low-income/first generation Latinx students face in trying to earn a higher education."
College Writing 2, Dr. Thomas McNamara
Research Question: What are the struggles that low-income/first generation Latinx students face in trying to earn a higher education.
Sabrina Martinez is one of the many Latinx students across the country who want to pursue a higher education at an amazing college. Students like her do not want to stay in the town they grew up in, they want to spread their wings and leave home and experience the college life that they have heard about. Joining clubs, playing sports, developing, and learning before eventually graduating with their degree and going into the adult world. Sabrina had that same dream to, until it nearly came to an end. She struggled with classes, had to take on two part time jobs that affected her education and nearly dropped out. All because she couldn’t afford to do it. She is not the only one who faced this problem. Angelica Gonzalez wanted to leave her hometown of Galveston to pursue an education at a private school in Florida, but she to have her dreams of earning that education crushed as well. She took on so much debt from housing and tuition, she had to take on a full-time job just to keep paying for schooling, and her lack of knowledge of knowing anything about college eventually led to her dropping out her senior year and moving back home working in a furniture store.
Angelica and Sabrina are just two of the many hundreds to thousands of Latinx students across the country that face this same exact problem and either struggle or fail to earn a higher education. Latinx students are the largest growing minority students that are going to college or institutions “in recent years, an average of only 39% of Latinx high school graduates enroll in college (de Brey et al., 2019). Although overall undergraduate enrollment doubled between 2000 and 2016, Latinx students continue to fall behind” and this is an issue that needs to be looked at everywhere including here at Lewis (Outley, Sanchez, Cascante pg. 2) Here at Lewis, we follow five of the Lasallian Core Principles: Concern for the Poor and Social Justice, Quality Education, Faith in the Presence of God, Respect for All Persons, and Inclusive Community, and that means we advocate for diversity, quality education for all, respect of all individuals no matter their background. I want to know if we here at Lewis provide quality education and the power to make sure no student here should struggle and receive the high education that them and their families have worked so hard for their kids to receive. It was Saint John Baptist de La Salle who advocated for education to those who could not afford it and wanted children to have the education that so many others could not receive. We here at Lewis should still be honoring his legacy and his work and seeing weather or not we are giving students a chance. In my research my intentions were to find out the struggles of Latinx students who come from a low-income family and or is a first-generation student who try to earn a higher education. Through that research, I have found that money and lack of support from colleges, high schools, and family members were key factors in deciding for these students to purse a higher education. I hope that in my conclusion that I can give some ideas as to how these problems here at Lewis could be changed through necessary help from colleges and suggestions to high schools to educate themselves and families about the necessary steps to take when helping their kids go to college.
Before I turn over to the research and interviews that I have conducted, I would like to take a moment to look at two scholarly research papers like mine that has done similar research like I have. I have chosen these two scholarly researched and peer reviewed articles because the research that has been done was to determine the reasons why Latinx students struggle in college for any reason that they could find. The other purpose of looking at these articles is to direct a connection that might have been shown in these other research projects that may connect to the research I am doing and any similarities that Lewis students might have. Many theories and papers presented their facts as to why this problem is happening to Latinx students and out of the many reasons they found, two stood out the most.
Making College Happen: The College Experiences of First-Generation Latino Students
This scholarly article does research on first generation Latinx students and learns what their transition to high school to college was like involving what they liked to call “Social Capital Theory” (Saunders & Serna 2). What they mean by this theory and their research they are trying to prove is how ten Latinx college students used their connections from their high school past and their current social connections at their college helped them succeed in getting a higher education. The science behind this is to prove whether or not having social and educational connections from college and high school are able to help these students with their education, in other words, did these students have any kind of support from their high school and their college. The results broke these students into three types of groups: Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3. Type 1 were students who maintained a balance of high school connections and college connections that made these students comfortable and willing to be open and learn on the campus they were studying on. One member named Roberto did not even need most of his old high school connections and was able to flourish at a small four-year university, something like Lewis. Type 2 students relied mainly on their old high school connections that made them struggle because the connections in high school made them fear for going to a larger college and they stayed local and their lack of connections to their college made them struggle in asking for help. In Type 3, only one student did not want to rely on any connections and go for her education on her own, and this showed that she struggled and ended up dropping out in the end. Why is this relevant? It is relevant because students, especially first-generation Latinx students, feel unwelcomed or fear of making connections to their college they go to that they do not ask for help from their peers, advisors, or professors. This will lead to the students relying back on other connections they had from high school who may not have any experience with college either or make no connections and go at it alone, either way, both will lead to struggle. If that lack of welcoming and connections are happening here at Lewis it could lead to Latinx students feeling left out and alone and it could lead to students struggling and not reach out to anyone for help that’ll result in them failing or dropping out.
Barriers and Supports to College Aspiration Among Latinx High School Students
This next article is a research project led by two professors from Texas A&M University and the Universidad del Valle, Institute of Education and Pedagogy located in Columbia to see what is stopping Latinx high school students from pursing their education further in college. Twenty-three Latinx students at an urban high school in Southern California were surveyed, along with their parents, to see what barriers were stopping these kids from earning a higher education after high school. Their findings broke the results into two groups: Barriers and Support. In the Barriers group, the following barriers were reasons why students would not want to pursue a higher education: “∙ Not enough money ∙ Family responsibilities ∙ Having a job or working outside of school ∙ Lack of opportunities ∙ Not being prepared enough ∙ Not enough confidence ∙ Not enough help with figuring out the steps of going to college ∙ Peer pressure ∙ Lack of teacher and counselor support” “Financial, demographic, relational, preparation, motivation, and ability barriers that students face in their college aspirations” (Outley, Manzano-Sanchez, Matarrita-Cascante 32). Then the second group, Supports, stated the following: “Family members ∙ Friends or relatives ∙ Other important people ∙ Counselors, teachers, school, Support from parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, and important people that students need in the path of going to college” (Outley, Manzano-Sanchez, Matarrita-Cascante 32). There were lots of reasons as to why these students were scared to move onto college, it was because of carrying the burden of so many factors that could stop them. That’s why this needs to be looked at here at Lewis as well. Not just the Latinx students here at Lewis, almost everybody could relate to some of these reasons why going to college would be a huge struggle, money, family, lack of support, and many other reasons. These reasons are why some students may not want to move onto college and if some do try to move on these are the barriers and struggles that could still hold students back and it could lead to them failing class or dropping out entirely.
These scholarly articles are helpful not just to see the similar work that has been done that I have done in this paper, but it is helping shed light to millions of Latinx students who face problems like these when trying to earn a higher education. As said before Latinx college students are growing and many want to purse an education beyond high school but there is still a problem when they try to earn their degree. The work that authors like these have done is to show the public and maybe even the many colleges and universities what these students go through and what is stopping them from moving on. Students like Sabrina Martinez and Angelica Gonzalez, students like them who want to go on further but could not be due to setbacks like these.
My research project is to find what the struggles that Latinx students who attend Lewis and are first generation or low-income. Before I did my interviews and my questionnaire, I wanted to know the affordable it is to go to Lewis because in my interviews and surveys, many have stated that cost of tuition and housing were a big problem. I also wanted to see if the number of Latinx students here at Lewis has increased over the years with successful graduation rates. The three interviews that I conducted were necessary to my research because the two students gave a perspective of what it’s like for a student who comes from a certain background to deal with college on their own or with little to no help or experience. My other interview is with a member of Lewis’ CASE was valuable to my research because it shows how the university is responding to these kinds of problems. Before we get into the interviews, I’d like to start with some primary source research I found about Lewis’s Latinx community and the cost of being here at Lewis.
Number of Latinx Students Over the Years
To find out if there was an increase in Latinx students I had to look at the Office of Institutional Research and Planning to see the demographics and reports over the past years to see if there was an upward trend with the attendance of Latinx students. In Lewis’s Profile for student enrollment and demographics, it starts the profile from the Fall of 2016 to the Fall of 2021. The data showed that in the Fall of 2016 there were a total of 1,091 Hispanic/Latino students who were enrolled in graduate or undergraduate studies that made up 16.4% of the student population on campus, Whites being the largest at 60.1%. Over the years, the numbers have slightly increased. In 2017 there were a total of 1,107 Latinx students, 2018 showed 1,154 students, 2019 had 1,232, 2020 had 1,294 students, and this year there were a total of 1,201 Latinx students on campus. With these numbers, Latinx students remained the second largest of the student population staying around the high teens in percentages. What was also great news was the amount of Latinx students earning their bachelors and master’s degrees here at Lewis. In 2016 there were a total of 203 Latinx students who earned their bachelor’s degree and 46 earning their master’s and last year that number for bachelor’s degrees increased to 225 students and 100 earning their master’s. What was also amazing was seeing 3 Latinx students in 2017-2018 year earning their doctorate’s, but that has not happened since then. But it is great that the rise of Latinx students is occurring here at Lewis University.
Cost of Tuition and Housing
As stated before, one of the biggest concerns that Latinx students have is money. Some of these students may not be from a wealthy family or even be well off, they could be on a fixed income or low-income. For students who are first generation them and their family may not know how fast the cost of tuition and housing can be and that put a huge burden on their shoulders of figuring out where to come up with the money or taking on loans that many people do not want to do. So, I wanted to figure out what it is like for a traditional student to enroll here at Lewis. According to the Office of the Bursar, last year’s tuition cost was approximately $34,268 for a year making it $17,134 per semester and this year the price increased by almost a $500 per semester and making a total of $1,000 extra annually from last year. With that in mind you also must add housing along with it, and everyone knows this is where it gets expensive. According to the Bursars Office, if you are a freshman here at Lewis you have three options to choose from for housing: Founders, Sheil, and South Halls and all cost around $3,375 per semester for a double. Then you add your meal plan which you have three options of choosing from but for this sake I’m going to use the default meal plan that is Meal Plan II that costs $2,236 per semester. When you had the housing and meal plan together it costs $5,611 per semester making the grand total for the year $11,222 for room and board, then adding the costs of books and from what I have seen from students paying I would say that the average would be around $300 per semester making it $600 for a year of books. Now add the cost of tuition from this year, which is $35,262, plus room and board which is $11,222, and finally adding your approximation of books of $600 for your grand total of $47,084 per year. That is a lot of money! But there is a good part about going to Lewis and that is the scholarships that come with it. According to the Financial Aid Office, the average scholarship range is “$5,000 to full tuition” and the “average freshman financial aid award [is]: $18,633” so that takes a great amount of money off from tuition and let’s take that $18,633 and subtract that from this year’s tuition and that cost would go down to $16,629 a year, so a little over $8,000 per semester which that is not bad, but you have to take in part if these students parents are helping pay or if they have to pay for their own. You also must remember that that goes to tuition not housing, unless for certain terms that Financial Aid is willing to do, but mainly it will be on the student to pay that on his/her own money. So now these students must find a job to help pay for their schooling, while also having the burdening fact of paying for a car if they have one, groceries, insurance, etc., that adds up and it can sink someone so deep that they might have to take out a loan that not many students like to do.
These interviews were held in person or on zoom and done with their consent. These people also agreed to be recorded. These people ranged from students here on campus, those who do not go to Lewis, but face similar experiences, and faculty.
Michael is a good friend of mine. We went to the same middle school and high school and were able to go to the colleges we wanted to go to. I got the chance to talk to him over Zoom. Michael is pursuing an education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be in the engineering program. When I talked to him, he said it was not an easy process. He is a first-generation student and had little help from his parents and from high school to help him figure out his first year. “I felt kind of lost and my parents were not very helpful and when I tried to ask our advisors at our high school, they did little to help me”, and his frustration only grew with his family being on a fixed income and his dad being disabled he was hoping for a decent scholarship or something from financial aid. Luckily, he was able to receive both, but declined to say how much he received. He told me U of I brought him in with open arms and started making connections immediately, but then he had the problem of housing and getting a job. Michael must take local transportation to work at a Pizza Hut and work up to 8 hours on weekends and some weekdays while also being a full-time student. Along with it he needed money to pay for books and other fees and he forgot about his housing as well. Since then, he has applied for other scholarships and received a few more that helps him and his family out with tuition. He has passed his first year without a hitch and is able to drive back home to his families for special occasions and on his breaks. He told me that he thinks he made the right decision to go to U of I but warns others about how fast the money builds up. He just wishes that high school was better able to prepare him for what was coming.
This second person I interviewed is a student here at Lewis agreed to the interview that I would give but wished to remain anonymous and was not recorded. What they told me is that they are a freshman here at Lewis and live on campus and wanted to go into the nursing program. They too are a first-generation student and was amazed at college but had a few problems with it along the way. They told me that with living on campus he did need a job to pay for his housing and part of his tuition that their parents also try to help pay for. They work at an agency and make their own time when they want. They said last year they tried working as much as they could during the summer to prepare for costs during the fall semester. Their parents were not well off and both parents work, mom working in a meat factory and the dad working two jobs at a bakery factory and washing trucks. Their parents wanted him to earn an education and be able to move out and be on his own so he could earn an education and escape the town that they are from. They told me about their biggest factor in coming to college was being able to afford it, they told me “I did not think that we would be able to pay and Lewis being a private college I thought I would get little to no scholarships.” They were able to receive financial aid in the form of scholarships and HRSA grant, and they said it was able to help them and his family enormously. They said Lewis was able to greet him well, and that his first year was rough being that he had to figure out how college worked and was able to join a club and receive help from CASE for tutoring help. They told me that the one thing that helped them was the first-generation program that helps these kinds of students out when they do not know what to do and how to navigate through college. That is how we met through first-generation week here at Lewis at a small conference. They are now getting ready to take on their first finals and is confident in themselves on how they are going to do and want people to know to use their resources that we have here on Lewis. They said without it, they may not have made it through his first year.
I had the great opportunity to meet with Stephany Renovato the Student Success Coordinator here at Lewis. She is a part of case and handles many different types of coordination for students here on campus. One of the things that she helps students with is “undecided advising” where students who are undecided are walked through with what they want to do and try and point them in a general direction of where they would like to go into. Also, she tries to help with any testing problems or academic probation and students get back on track to passing their classes. The one thing she mentioned to me to was that “a big, big part of my job is supporting underrepresented first-generation high need students with either mentoring, different resources, workshops, things like that” so she wants these students to reach out and make sure she can help them with resources, mentoring, and workshops that can help prepare them for their outlook on what they want to do in college. What Stephany’s message to students who are struggling or are having problems with how their experience her at Lewis is like, she encourages them to reach out and help them. People like her in CASE and everywhere else wants to help these students and without them reaching out they could set themselves up for failure.
The last thing I did for this project was to get the opinions of how high school students are thinking about college and what they think will be their biggest problems when going. I did a survey through my old high school that has a good amount of Latinx students on the campus. This survey was put through with the help from my former English teacher, Ms. Costello, and she was able to give the survey to students in her classes and give their opinions. This survey asked basic questions about themselves and their families and their outlook for college. 13 students in total responded and answered all the questions they were asked. 30.8% of students answered that a high school diploma/GED making it the largest group out of the rest. These students knew they wanted to go to college but knew that their parents may not have all the knowledge but in another question, they answered to if the help they receive from the school from advisors and other help is helping them prepare for college, 54.5% said they were unsure if they are receiving any sort of help for preparing for college from the school. The biggest question came down to if money would be the problem and not surprisingly 54.5% said money was going to be the biggest factor for them for going to college. Others said that living on campus, commuting, having a job, and being away from their family out of state was also the biggest factors. What I most saw in this survey was that it all came down to money that they were thinking was going to hold these students back, and the lack of help that the high school was providing these students when learning and signing up for college campus visits and applying.
The overall findings that I have come to is that Latinx students who are low income or first-generation face multiple barriers when being in college or planning on going to college. It all boils down to money and lack of support. Unfortunately, I do not see colleges willingly lowering their cost over the years so unfortunately that is a barrier that is always going to be there. All these students and parents can hope for is help in the form of scholarships and financial aid. At least having those in mind, it can help take an enormous weight off families’ shoulders and not worry about trying to take out a loan. As for the lack of support, I mainly saw that lack from first-generation students whose parents never went to college and the lack of support from their students’ high schools. I think going into the future, colleges and high schools should not only teach the students about how college work, but also teaching the parents what it is like for them on their end to see what college will be like for their child. That lack of support and reaching out for help is one of the reasons why students are failing or not being able to keep up with the life of college, it is very hard. Here at Lewis, we are fortunate to have such great resources to help Latinx students from failing and not being able to get their degree. No one should be left behind because of their race, social class, or knowledge, Lewis is a school where we invite the diversity of every student, not judging on their skin color or social class. We must here the underrepresented voices here at Lewis and across other colleges because Latinx students deserve the same chance that many other students are able to do and it is a dream not just for the student, but for the parents that want to see their children be successful and earn an education that they may not have been able to get themselves. It’s a dream that they are following, and that dream needs to become a reality for Latinx students who are low-income or first generation.