August 08, 2019

Closing the Graduation Gap for Oregon’s Latinx Students

In January, Oregon educators received some encouraging news about graduation rates, particularly for historically underserved students in Oregon, and most notably for Oregon’s Latinx students.

While the data about graduation does not prove an exact cause-and-effect between interventions and increases in high school graduation rates, many in Oregon’s educational community point to the promising practices of programs like Central Oregon’s ¡AVANZA!, which focuses on providing Latinx students with culturally relevant educational and career mentoring and other preparation for higher education and jobs.

As work in early childhood and K-12 education advances—educators, nonprofits and political and philanthropic leaders across the state are asking, “How do we continue those efforts and work to retain Latinx students in higher education, and how do we guide them to relevant degrees and careers?”

While more Latinx students than ever are enrolling in college, too few are completing their degrees in 4-year programs. Recent U.S. Department of Education data highlighted in “The condition of education 2018,” shows that students of color are not being prepared as well by their high schools for college success, and too many are paying more than others to complete degrees—spending on average of $3,000 more to complete them.

These topics took center stage at a recent Latino Higher Education Convening in Wilsonville, Oregon, where some of the state’s top higher education leaders shared experiences and learnings with national experts, in service to understanding the best retention and graduation practices for Latinx college students. 

“Students are more likely to believe they can succeed if they see others like them who have succeeded and who believe in them.”

Dr. Rebecca Hernandez, chief diversity officer, George Fox University

Leaders discussed evidence-based programs with experts like Janette Martinez from Excelencia in Education, which tracks the effectiveness of programs accelerating Latino higher education graduation rates across the country—noting ways colleges and universities can support Latinx students beyond recruitment and admission.

Ensuring student success takes more than academic counseling and support, but also involving families prior to post-secondary education to equip and empower them to navigate the higher ed application systems. Success requires addressing students’ varied needs, including housing and mental health and innovative approaches to remedial coursework. Investing in financial literacy ensures students don’t accumulate burdensome and unnecessary debt.

Dr. Rebecca Hernandez, Chief Diversity Officer at George Fox University noted the importance of culturally matched role models, “Students are more likely to believe they can succeed if they see others like them who have succeeded and who believe in them.”

The event was hosted by Oregon Community Foundation’s Latino Partnership Program, which supports promising activities across Oregon through grants for scholarships, mentoring and leadership development. This year, Latinx students received one-fifth of OCF’s scholarship awards—illustrating OCF’s work to help students of color bridge a growing “opportunity gap”—the chronic lack of educational and employment opportunities available to Oregon’s low-income children, children of color and rural children.

Latinx students represent 16% of Oregon’s colleges and universities. As the 2019-2020 academic year begins, OCF Latino Partnership Program will continue to engage education, business and community leaders in efforts to build a pipeline of support and resources to enhance capacity along a continuum of birth-to-career educational investments.

Future success in higher education will come in large measure by creating support systems that include mentorship, cultural role models, internships and access to professional communities across institutions and across the state.

Roberto Franco is Director of OCF’s Latino Partnership Program, a statewide initiative to work with Latino leaders to address education challenges, influence socioeconomic issues and forge ties between Latino and non-Latino communities and individuals.