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Colleges and universities are seeing more and more Latinx students on campuses across the country, which is great news. However, Latinx students graduate in four years at a nearly 14% lower rate than white students. To support Latinx students’ health, well-being, and academic success, college and university leaders must analyze the ways their campuses engage with this unique student population.
The Latinx population is growing tremendously across the country as a whole. According to the American Council on Education (ACE), Latinx communities comprise 17% of the U.S. population, up from 6% in the 1980s. And by 2060, the number of Latinx people in the U.S. is projected to grow to 29% of the population. This growth translates to an increasing number of Latinx students also enrolling in college.
Between 2000 and 2015, the college attendance rate among Latinx high school graduates grew from 22% to 37%, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That means Latinx undergraduate enrollment more than doubled to 3 million. Twenty-eight percent of Latinx now have at least an associate degree, which is up from 15% in 2000.
A closer look at the Latinx population
According to Mental Health America (MHA), 62% of Latinx 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, Latinx is the nation’s youngest major ethnic group. Key findings on the young Latinx population include:
- 81% of young Latinx are U.S.-born, compared to 42% of Latinx older than 36.
- 76% of Latinos ages 18 to 35 said it was not necessary to speak Spanish to be Latinx, compared to 67% of older Latinx.
- 41% of young Latinx are English-dominant, compared to 24% of older Latinx.
- Young Latinx believe in the American dream, with 77% saying most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard.
The Latinx community is growing and the number of Latinx college students is rapidly increasing, but Latinx graduation rates are not climbing at the same rate. Why?
Reasons that health and well-being is often ignored among Latinx college students
According to a study from the University of California (U.C.), Riverside, 65% of Latina and Latino students have mental health issues that go untreated. Responses to two questionnaires assessing mental health attitudes identified several reasons Latinx students engage less with campus mental health services than their white counterparts:
Latinx culture and family dependence
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 Latinx community, 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 against Latinx communities
Racism against the Latinx community is prevalent. Hate crimes against Latinx victims in 2017 rose by 24% compared to 2016, according to an FBI report. There’s also a persistently problematic pressure for the Latinx community to assimilate more thoroughly into American culture while maintaining a connection to their parents’ Latin American roots. For many Latinx 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 Latinx youth have depressive symptoms. And Latinx 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 Latinx youth that can lead to symptoms of mental health conditions.
How the pandemic impacted the well-being of Latinx students
Latinx communities have the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. They’re also more likely to become hospitalized and die from the disease than other ethnic and racial groups. In addition to this, America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action analyzed the high school experience during the coronavirus global pandemic among 2,439 people ages 13-19 enrolled in U.S. high schools during the 2020-21 school year and found:
- High schoolers are struggling with declining mental health and levels of disconnection from peers and adults due to distance learning and anxiety over the pandemic.
- Opportunities to learn about race and racism in the classroom vary but are associated with higher levels of critical consciousness and social action.
- COVID-19 has upended postsecondary planning. But students who feel most prepared for postsecondary plans are those most connected to teachers and peers, have opportunities to discuss race and racism in school, and feel academically interested and challenged.
The survey showed that Latinx high schoolers were most likely out of all ethnic groups surveyed to experience poor or declining mental health during the pandemic. And, Latinx youth were 60% more likely to report feelings of poor or reduced mental health compared to white youth as a result of COVID-19. These high school students are likely to carry the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic with them as they transition to higher education, which underscores the need to understand how best to support and care for this student population.
Ways that higher education institutions can support Latinx 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 Latinx students. Below are three suggestions for consideration:
Foster belongingness and champion Latinx representation
A report from the Education Trust found that Latinx 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.
Latinx-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 Latinx students and their families. These types of initiatives send the message to the Latinx student population that their college communities understand and celebrate who they are.
Reduce barriers to college access that disproportionately impact Latinx students
Student success leaders at many two- and four-year institutions have developed programming tailored to the challenges Latinx students commonly encounter. Several 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 Latinx students who may be juggling one or many jobs, family responsibilities, and schoolwork.
Use technology to connect Latinx students to faculty, staff, and resources
Technology has an important role to play in closing equity gaps and improving Latinx student success. Many colleges use technology to better understand and improve Latinx 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 Latinx 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 Latinx students include:
- Ensure mental health interventions for Latinx immigrants are sensitive to issues specific to this group, including bullying, acculturation, discrimination, and other immigration-related factors—especially with first-year Latinx 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.
- Teach a comprehensive and accurate history of race and racism in the U.S.
- Prioritize postsecondary success through relevant content, academic support, and pathways planning.
Saturate the student population with caring adult relationships and mentors.
- Create a bilingual and culturally relevant mental health suite of resources and outreach initiatives.
Telehealth can expand support services for your Latinx students
Given the increasing number of Latinx 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 TimelyMD to learn how mental and physical telehealth for colleges can make a difference in the lives of your Latinx students.