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Colleges and universities are seeing more and more Hispanic students on campuses across the country, with Hispanic enrollment recently reaching a new high at four-year colleges. However, 31% of Hispanic students at these institutions weren’t enrolled after six years, in comparison to 20% of white students, according to recent analysis. The same study found that the six-year graduation rate for Latino students was 52%, which was 13 percentage points lower than white students. To support Hispanic and Latina/o/x students’ health, well-being, and academic success, college and university leaders must analyze the ways their campuses engage with this unique student population.
A closer look at the Hispanic and Latino population
The Hispanic and Latino populations are growing tremendously across the country as a whole. In 2021, the U.S. Latino population reached 62.5 million. This accounted for 19% of the total U.S. population at the time, up from 13% in 2000. By 2060, the Latino population is projected to increase to 111.2 million, or 28% of the U.S. population. This growth translates to an increasing number of Hispanic and Latina/o/x students also enrolling in college.
From 2005 to 2021, it became more common for the Hispanic population in the U.S. to earn a bachelor’s degree. Additional research on the time period from 2000-2020 finds that the proportion of Latinos with a bachelor’s degree or higher doubled during this timeframe, from 10% to 20%. Since other racial and ethnic groups started with higher educational attainment in 2000, Latinos continue to lag behind most racial groups on college graduation rates, with financial constraints being a common reason why.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), 62% of Hispanic and Latino people in the U.S. are of Mexican background, followed by 9.5% Puerto Rican, 3.9% Salvadoran, 3.9% Cuban, 3.5% Dominican, and 2.5% Guatemalan. And according to PEW Research, Latino is the nation’s youngest major ethnic group. Key findings from this research include that 81% of young Latinos are U.S.-born, compared to 42% of Latinos older than 36.
The Hispanic and Latino community is growing and the number of Hispanic and Latina/o/x college students is rapidly increasing, but Hispanic and Latino graduation rates are not climbing at the same rate. Why?
Reasons that health and well-being is often ignored among Latino college students
According to a study from the University of California (U.C.), Riverside, 65% of Latina/o/x students have mental health issues that go untreated. Responses to two questionnaires assessing mental health attitudes identified several reasons Latina/o/x students engage less with campus mental health services than their white counterparts:
Culture and family dependence
Latinos share close bonds with family and feel a duty to assist, support, and respect their families. While this type of community is profoundly helpful, U.C. survey responses demonstrated that a lack of interdependent values and a focus on family-oriented ideals have led to a gap in Latina/o/x college students seeking mental health services. Researchers theorize, “Because Western culture is more focused on independence rather than interdependence, white students may be less burdened by perceived stigma and be more likely to seek out campus mental health services than students who endorse interdependent values.”
The stigma of seeking mental health support
The stigma against mental illness also prevents Latinos from seeking help through mental health services. According to Mental Health America, mental health and mental illness are often stigmatized topics in the Hispanic and Latino communities, resulting in prolonged suffering in silence.
This silence compounds the range of experiences that may lead to mental health conditions, including immigration, acculturation, trauma, and generational conflicts. And even when Latinos do seek help for mental illness and suicide prevention, they regularly face hurdles, such as a lack of culturally competent mental health providers, cost, and low-income and insurance barriers.
Discrimination and pressure to assimilate
In 2018, the number of victims of anti-Latino or Hispanic hate crimes rose to over 21%, according to an FBI report. There’s also a persistent pressure for the Latino community to assimilate more thoroughly into American culture while maintaining a connection to their parents’ Latin American roots. For many Latina/o/x who have immigrated to the U.S., assimilation into American culture is about blending — and for some, it’s also about survival amid discrimination or outright racism.
Fear of immigration policy enforcement and deportation
A 2020 study by the Migration Policy Institute found that Latino high school students who fear immigration enforcement tend to have more challenging mental health outcomes. More than half of the students who said they fear having a loved one arrested or deported also reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms of depression
According to a Salud America! Research Review, 22% of Latino youth have depressive symptoms. And Latino children are also less likely to use mental health care services—8% compared to 14% of white children.
Stressors related to gender and sexuality
These challenges are only a few circumstances facing Hispanic and Latina/o/x youth that can lead to symptoms of mental health conditions.
Ways that higher education institutions can support Hispanic and Latino students
Given the increasing diversity among U.S. college students, there is an urgent need for colleges and universities to develop proactive and culturally informed programs to improve mental health support for Hispanic and Latina/o/x students. Consider these three suggestions:
Foster belongingness and champion Hispanic and Latino representation
A report from the Education Trust found that Latino students are underrepresented at both community and technical colleges and four-year institutions in most states. Higher education institutions should expand orientation services to include a family session held in English and Spanish. This would allow non-English speaking parents and family members to learn how to support their students throughout the college journey.
Latino-specific graduation ceremonies can also be important tools to foster belongingness and ultimately improve retention. While many schools have college-wide commencement ceremonies, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) often host dedicated commencement ceremonies for Latino students and their families. These types of initiatives send the message to the Latino student population that their college communities understand and celebrate who they are.
Reduce barriers to college access that disproportionately impact Hispanic and Latino students
Student success leaders at many two- and four-year institutions have developed programming tailored to the challenges Hispanic and Latina/o/x students commonly encounter. Some schools have also taken steps to make coordinated care networks with other offices on their campuses that are mutually committed to meeting students’ needs—including services like advising and tutoring—accessible to students who may be juggling one or many jobs, family responsibilities, and schoolwork.
Use technology to connect Hispanic and Latino students to faculty, staff, and resources
Technology has an important role to play in closing equity gaps and improving Hispanic and Latina/o/x student success. Many colleges use technology to better understand and improve performance in specific courses or majors. Other colleges use it in case management systems and multi-modal communication to coordinate early interventions for at-risk Latina/o/x students. When college campuses strategically manage, integrate, and utilize technology to ensure continuity of care, schools create an environment that allows students to access care efficiently. Technology also provides health care professionals with needed information to ensure students can be healthy and thrive.
Additional considerations to care for Hispanic and Latina/o/x students include:
- Ensure mental health interventions for Latino immigrants are sensitive to issues specific to this group, including bullying, acculturation, discrimination, and other immigration-related factors—especially with first-year Latina/o/x students.
- Program leaders should include parental mental health education and involvement for successful mental health interventions.
- Program leaders should consider that some Latin American parents and students may be more comfortable interacting with a Spanish-speaking or bilingual mental health professional.
- Prioritize postsecondary success through relevant content, academic support, and pathways planning.
- Provide caring mentors for students.
- Create a bilingual and culturally relevant mental health suite of resources and outreach initiatives.
Telehealth can expand support services for Hispanic and Latino students
Given the increasing number of Latina/o/x students arriving on campuses across the U.S. and their hesitance to engage with campus mental health student services, telehealth can be a part of the solution. Virtual health and well-being solutions for students can eliminate barriers to care for students who may not reach out when a need arises.
Care delivered through telehealth is fast, easy, and efficient. It eliminates wait times, reduces the stigma of seeking mental and medical care, and perhaps most importantly, is available the moment a student needs care. When students don’t have to wait days or weeks for a counseling center appointment, there is a positive effect on student health and wellness. Contact TimelyCare to learn how mental and physical telehealth for colleges can make a difference in the lives of your Hispanic and Latino students