By Mireya Tagle and Guadalupe Perez
Karely Nevares, a fourth-year fashion merchandising major and first-generation Latina student at Long Beach State, said she is ready to be the first in her family to graduate college.
“Some responsibilities as a firstborn are to take care of my siblings and do chores around the house,” Nevares said. “I also have the responsibility of going to school and making sure I do all my assignments and working part-time.”
Latinos are the largest ethnic group on campus and their graduation rates are rising, but they fall behind other student populations when it comes to finishing their education.
According to a 2018 report conducted by The Campaign for College Opportunity, the “Latinx educational attainment has improved over the last decade.” There has been an increase in the Latino student population attending community college or a four-year university.
Latinos are the largest demographic at CSULB with 13,506 students out of the 31,447 total student population.
“California is more Latino, therefore you’re going to see more Latinos,” said Irma Corona-Nieto, an adviser for CSULB’s Equal Opportunity Program.
Corona-Nieto has worked at CSULB for over 39 years. She helps students navigate challenges throughout their college career. She said she has seen how the school demographics have changed over the years, and that the Latino population has increased.
“There is a hunger for education and students are challenging themselves to go beyond,” Corona-Nieto said. “The problem is not bringing Latinos in, it’s retaining them.”
Although students said there are resources, they said they want more to make their learning process easier.
“We have a career center and counselors to go ask questions, but most of the times I’ve gone with them everything is so rushed,” Nevares said. “It feels as they just want you in and out of there.”
Nevares said many Latino students struggle to adjust to school life while working and keeping up with family responsibilities. The balance between trying to excel in school and making their family proud can take a toll, she said.
“I think the responsibilities don’t end because we’re considered the second parent,” Nevares said.“Hispanic culture doesn’t recognize how hard the student life can be.”
Nevares said she feels her family might not understand how hectic it gets when she divides her time. She has her responsibilities at home and she has to work part-time in order to continue her studies.
“My family wasn’t supportive with me going to college,” she said. “They actually wanted me to work full-time and quit college to help out with the family expenses.”
Nevares is not the only one who said they face these challenges as a Latino student.
Javier Estrada Perez, a third-year criminal justice major, also understands the struggles of being a first-generation Latino college student.
“A challenge that I have faced in college is not having a parent to relate to in terms of college education… in guidance or asking questions related to the college experience,” Estrada Perez said.
Corona-Nieto said it’s harder for students to want to continue their education because they don’t see an example of someone who goes through the same challenges.
“They don’t see role models in the classroom that reflect them, so they don’t see themselves being able to carry their education forward,” Corona-Nieto said. “They are struggling between their family responsibilities, personal development and their academic development.”
Alfa Lopez, fourth-year Spanish major, understands the importance of proving Latino stereotypes wrong and bettering themselves professionally by obtaining a higher education.
“You don’t have to remain a construction worker, a house cleaner or a babysitter [all your life],” Lopez said. “That’s why it is important to show future generations that you can make it out there professionally.”
Monica Chacon, a first-year graduate student, said Latinos like herself have been pushing toward attaining a degree at a higher educational institution.
“Negative rhetoric [about Latinos] is pushing Latinos to continue pursuing a higher education,” Chacon said.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Latinos have the highest enrollment rate with 43% at CSULB. The Asian student population has the second-highest enrollment with 22%. The White student population has the third-highest enrollment rate with 17%.
According to the statistics, Latino students have the highest enrollment, but only 9,000 graduates. During a six-year period, about 4,000 Latino students dropped out. Both the Asian and White student populations had higher graduate and continuation rates in comparison to Latino students.
The report from The Campaign for College Opportunity described one of the contributing factors for a lower Latino graduation rate is their socioeconomic status and a lack of resources presented to them to thrive in a college environment.
“The Latinos that are coming to the university have a lot of financial and economic situations,” Corona-Nieto said. “They live in areas that are underserved, their high schools under prepare them.”
The CSU graduation and continuation rates for incoming Latino students at CSULB shows a fluctuation in continuation rates. In fall 2015, 89.3% of students returned for the spring semester. In fall 2016 it decreased to 88% and continued to decrease in fall 2017 to 85.3%.
“Despite all the thought of quitting college and working full-time, it isn’t really an option for me…I’ve gone too far to just quit at this point and not be able to see and experience if it is worth it,” Nevares said.