Campus News

Prospects and Challenges for Latino Students at Hispanic Serving Institutions

By Katharine C Romero | Posted May 15, 2013

During the 21st annual Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE) conference, the Collegian attended a workshop titled “Prospects and Challenges for Latino Students at Hispanic Serving Institutions.” The workshop was presented by Francisco X. Gaytan, director of ENLACE Leadership Institute and the assistant professor of social work and educational leadership at Northeastern Illinois University.

The workshop provided an overview of the role of Hispanic Serving Institutions in serving Latino students in the United States. The workshop also provided demographics of HSIs and the hardships Latino students face while attending them. The presenter also provided the attendees with information on how to further Latino student success.


Gaytan was born in the Chicago neighborhood of Little Village and most of his family lives in the Pilsen neighborhood. His father emigrated from San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1963 when he was 15 years old. His mother was born in Texas to first-generation Mexican parents and moved to Chicago when she was 5 years old. Gaytan lived in Little Village for three years before moving to Bridgeview, IL, which is fairly diverse and is working class.

When he was 14 years old, he and his family moved to Tinley Park. He would have gone to Argo High School, but his parents did not feel it was the best school since three of his older cousins went there and none graduated. In Tinley Park, he attended Andrew High School, which Gaytan described as a predominately white, middle-class public school.

Gaytan did well in high school; he scored a 29 on the ACT, was enrolled in AP courses and graduated in the top 5 percent of his class.

From there, he went on to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where he withdrew after one semester because he was failing all of his courses. He then attended Moraine Valley Community College for two and a half years, and then transferred to Loyola where he received his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1997.

After working in social services for two years, he went to the University of California at Berkeley where he then received a master’s degree in social work in 2001. He then began his doctoral studies in education at Harvard University. In 2003, he left there with a master’s degree. He completed his doctorate in psychology at New York University in 2010. His focus was on the education of Latino and immigrant youth.

Despite Gaytan’s successful high school career, he was not prepared for college. He demonstrated eye-opening demographics about similar challenges Latino students face while working toward higher education.


The Latino population is a steadily increasing share of the overall population, especially among the youth. The high school graduation rate among Latino students has increased, there has also been an increase of Latino students who go to college, as well as graduation rate.

However, Latinos have the least number of graduates in proportion to population size. Gaytan describes it as, “A bigger pie, but a smaller slice.”

Latinos still lag on behind other ethnic groups, such as white and black students. Therefore, the increases in these numbers have a lot to do with the increase of Latino population.

Looking at the United States as a whole, according to 2010 Census data, 308 million people live in the United States. Over 50 million are Latino, compared to 3.5 million in 2000.

Gaytan provided exact statistics to really make a groundbreaking impact on the matter. According to the 2009 Community Survey, 12,910,409 people live in Illinois. Approximately 15 percent, or 1,969,773 people, are Latino, and 35.7 percent of the Latino population is under the age of 18.

The Chicago area has the second largest concentration of people who identify as being of Mexican descent in the United States.

Graph of Educational Attainment of Illinois Latinos 25 and Older displaying the level of education in Latinos from Gaytan’s actual presentation at the ILACHE conference.

Gaytan presented a graph that represented the Illinois Education Attainment in Latinos, ages 25 and older.

41 percent of Latinos have less than high school education. 28 percent of Latinos have a high school diploma or GED, while 19 percent of Latinos have some college education. 8 percent of Latinos receive their bachelor’s degree, and only 4 percent of Latinos have a graduate degree.

He spoke about community colleges. 65 percent of Latinos enroll; however, only one-in-five leave community college, and only half of that receive a college degree.

He also stated that one-in-10 students are Latino, while only one-in-nine has a college degree.

Gaytan did in-depth research about HSIs. He noted that universities with higher numbers and percentages of Hispanic students have higher proportion of Hispanic graduates.

However, Gaytan noted that HSIs generally do not have a culturally explicit or specific mission. He describes HSIs are “ad hoc.”

In addition, universities with a higher number of Hispanic students have higher percentage of Hispanic faculty members.  Universities with higher numbers and percentages of Hispanic faculty have lower six-year graduation rates overall and for Hispanic students.

The presenter showed the attendees demographics of different colleges in Illinois. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has nearly 28,000 students. Of those students, 6 percent of them are Hispanic. The number of Hispanic graduates is 538, which is 14 percent; however, over the course of six years, the total graduate rate is 53 percent. Out of that 53 percent, nearly 40 percent of them are Hispanic. The percent of faculty being Hispanic is only 4 percent.

On the other hand, Northeastern Illinois University has almost 12,000 students. Out of this number of students, 3, 246 of them are Hispanic, which is 28 percent, making it an HSI. The number of Hispanic graduates is 24 percent. The total six-year graduation rate is 19 percent, while 16 percent are Hispanic. 10 percent of the faculty is also Hispanic.

A chart of Universities in Illinois including their number of graduates, Hispanic graduates and Hispanic faculty shown at Gaytan’s presentation.

Gaytan also gathered research from Chicago. Latino students in Chicago Public Schools are the least likely to enroll in college, and if they do, they often “under-enroll,” according to “From High School to the Future: Potholes on the Road to College.”

Latinos who go to schools with higher admissions standards graduate at a higher rate than similarly qualified Latinos students who attend less competitive schools.

Gaytan believes that the pre-college needs of Latino students are post-secondary college information, post-secondary college access and better preparation in high school

Going into HSIs, Gaytan added a study by Nunez and Bowers, who concluded that most HSI students tend to be first-generation college students, come from low-income families, have lower standardized math scores, rank living near their families as a priority in choosing a college, are non-native English speakers and come from minority high schools with a high rate of minority staff.

Gaytan included his findings at NEIU. The students found that the biggest issue was financial, even though NEIU is one of the most affordable. The students also didn’t find themselves to be under prepared, although most of them are in developmental math and English classes.

In addition, the students at NEIU have family members who have low levels of education. Students see them as support for their education, but they do not ask for their help. The students also reported that they have access to friends and teachers who provide support; however, Gaytan added that he does not know if they actually seek that support, nor the quality of that support.


Gaytan left the attendees curious; however, these numbers cannot reach a definite conclusion. He left them with critical questions such as, “Is it about the money?” and “Should HSIs be more selective?”

The Collegian was given the opportunity to interview Gaytan on the issue. When asked what he felt what the students need, he said that there should be more information on Latinos getting into college.

“There are many Latinos who meet the requirements to go to a very good school but choose to either enroll at less competitive schools or they do not enroll at all,” Gaytan said. “This requires sharing information about true college costs. Just because a college price on the website says $40,000 that does not mean that is what you will pay. In fact, many private universities offer very generous financial aid. For example, at Harvard, families that make less than $65,000 do not have to pay anything for their child to attend school there.”

He also stated that Latinos need to enroll in the most selective schools since those schools offer the best chance for them to graduate. He also believes that there should be a focus on supporting Latino students, not just the lowest performing and undocumented.

“There are many academically strong Latinos who do poorly because people assume that just because they have good grades that they do not experience some of the aforementioned barriers,” Gaytan said.

In addition, he believes that support services for these students should include bilingual and bicultural faculty who are trained and know all the steps it takes to be successful in college. There could be a connection made with the students through formal mentoring programs.

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