Adapting campuses, classes, and processes to better serve Hispanic students will be a crucial step toward meeting national attainment goals, a new report from New America’s Education Policy Program finds. Since fall 2000, the number of Hispanic students in public colleges has effectively doubled.  However, due to a Congressional ban on a student-level data system, the federal government is flying blind when it comes to knowing how millions of Hispanic college students are faring.

Beyond Access: How Texas and California Are Accommodating Increased Hispanic College Enrollment examines how the data systems of two states, Texas and California, provide important insights into the measure of student success and the different challenges facing institutions of higher education.

“Some institutions are successfully handling the additional numbers of students through careful monitoring, a commitment to data, and constant experimentation,” writes Ben Miller, former higher education research director at New America and recently appointed senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. “But other colleges are struggling to maintain results while their Hispanic student population is growing at a breakneck pace.”

In California, community colleges and state universities have seen steady increases in retention rates and credit accumulation rates of Hispanic students over the past decade.

Most notably, California State University, Long Beach improved its two-year retention rate for first-time full-time Hispanic students by nearly 13 percentage points from 2000 to 2011. David Dowell, the interim provost and senior vice president at the university, attributed this success to several improvements, including a new budgeting model that ensures the college can offer all the classes it wants to each year, the creation of annual graduation goals, and proactive advising that gives students a clearer pathway to completion for each major.

In Texas, community colleges and four-year institutions have seen substantial increases in enrollment, yet notable decreases in two-year persistence rates, among Hispanic students between 2000 and 2012.

“Learning to better serve Hispanic students will not just happen automatically,” says Miller. “The results at Texas community colleges strongly suggest that many institutions must be more intentional about how they serve emerging populations.”

Using findings from the data and interviews, Miller provides the following recommendations at the federal, state, and institutional levels:

  • Use data to help colleges start conversations about their results and serve as a jumping-off point to deeper dives within their own administrative data;
  • Track outcomes for students beyond the traditional first-time full-time cohort;
  • Explicitly include Hispanic students in strategic planning for higher education;
  • Provide opportunities for students to earn college credit while still in high school;
  • Overturn the ban that prohibits creating a federal student unit record system.

“The overall picture is never as simple as success or failure,” concludes Miller. “But understanding what challenges and opportunities exist and how they’ve helped or hindered Hispanic student success for recent enrollees will be crucial in creating a road map for dealing with future enrollment increases.”

[This article is cross-posted at Ed Central.]

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Ben Miller

Ben Miller is a senior policy analyst in the New America Foundation's Education Policy Program. He was previously a senior policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Education.