College enrollment is down due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Latinx student population has taken a significant hit.
Spring 2021 undergraduate enrollment is down 5.9% from last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Latinx registration was rising before the pandemic, and today it shows some of the most significant swings:
A decrease of 1.9% in spring 2021 compared to an increase of 2.1% in spring 2020. Community colleges, which include large Latino student populations, saw a 13.7% decrease in enrollment in spring 2021, compared to an increase of 1.7% in spring 2020.
Students dropped out for are a variety of reasons, but two seem to be the most common:
1) Family members became sick or lost their jobs, and the student had to help support the family.
2) They couldn’t afford it anymore. Instead of falling further behind, they decided to drop out.
The pandemic worsened some of the problems already faced by Latinx college students, including language barriers, challenges due to immigration status, or lack of knowledge of the application due to first-generation students.
“Latino students were disproportionally affected in the pandemic since we are the most economically vulnerable,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder, and chief executive officer of Excelencia in Education, an organization that measures and seeks to accelerate Latinx college completion. “There was less enrollment and less persistence, but looking at the bigger picture, in one year, we saw five years of growth lost in terms of enrollment and representation, and that is big.”
As the Latinx college enrollment numbers decrease, Santiago said the worry lies in these students’ missed opportunities and exposure.
Latinx Story: Sergio Blacutt
Sergio Blacutt, a sophomore at Northern Virginia Community College studying political science, said his decision to drop out stemmed from his hard time with remote learning.
“Throughout the Zoom meetings, I personally didn’t feel comfortable with it. I get distracted easily, so it was not possible, and I gave up. I stopped showing up, and I didn’t finish the last semester at Northern Virginia Community College,” Blacutt said.
When Blacutt tried to go back to school, he was denied financial aid because he stopped showing up to class during the spring 2020 semester.
On top of that, Blacutt tore his ACL while riding his skateboard and could not afford doctors’ visits since his father lost his job, leading to everyone in his family losing health coverage.
Now, Blacutt is on track to receive his associate’s degree and plans to transfer to a four-year school.
Financing their education was a barrier for many Latino college students even before Covid, and the pandemic exacerbated this challenge.
Latinx Story: Jorge Alvarez
Jorge Alvarez, a first-generation college student with one semester left to go at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, is studying public health with a minor in biological sciences on the pre-med track. Alvarez was able to get federal work-study and was a resident assistant. Other than that, he budgeted and took out loans to cover his additional expenses.
However, during the pandemic, things changed dramatically.
“There was a huge gap in terms of me making money to fund things that I have to pay for, like my car insurance,” Alvarez said. “I ended up relying on my little savings, Covid relief check, and really spent a lot of time finding different ways to make money. I would try to sell things on Facebook Marketplace to try to get by, but it was nothing substantial.”
Sadly, for other students, the overwhelming responsibilities drove them to make drastic decisions.