During May and June, countless young high school Latina graduates across the United States will find themselves at a pivotal moment in their lives: deciding what higher education path to pursue - college and/or university. It's a decision that carries immense weight and significance, shaping their future paths and aspirations.

And the truth is, the United States is not immune to the reality of educational dropout rates at advanced levels in our Black, Latino and people of color communities. Driven by the high costs of universities/colleges today, some have preferred to enter a family business or pursue a blue collar trade after high school. Many factors can bottleneck graduation progress for our communities.

According to figures from the Pew Research Center, by 2020, Latinos accounted for one-fifth of all post-secondary enrollment, totaling around 3.7 million students.The figure may seem small, but compared to the year 2000, it represents an increase of 2.7 million enrolled students, which can be considered a significant improvement in the number.

Of this increase in Latino students enrolled in pursuit of higher education, a considerable percentage comprises Latinas. Below are some data and statistics that help understand this significant progress in the number of women with postgraduate degrees and the contributing factors as well as those that continue to act to the detriment of these figures.

Rates of Latina Graduates Rise

To understand the current figures that now position Latinas above Latino men in postgraduate numbers, it's necessary to analyze the statistical trends of recent years.

For this purpose, the data provided by the Pew Research Center offer a clear insight into the rise of Latinas with postgraduate degrees, considering the upward trajectory over the past 31 years:

  • Starting in 1990, the reality was that there were only 160,000 Latinas with postgraduate degrees in the United States, 60,000 fewer than the men, who numbered 220,000 at that time. By the year 2000, the gap began to narrow. At that point, men with postgraduate degrees only exceeded women by 10,000. It's important to note that in just 10 years, Latinas nearly matched the number of men in postgraduate attainment.
  • By 2010, Latinashad surpassed Latino men entirely in postgraduate attainment. At that time, the figure stood at 620,000 Latina graduates compared to 530,000 men, a gap of 90,000 that would continue to widen over the next 11 years.
  • By 2021, Latinas achieved their highest number yet, totaling 1,370,000 postgraduate graduates. This milestone marked the surpassing of one million Latinas with postgraduate degrees, with the gap between Latinas and Latino men in postgraduate attainment growing to 290,000.

This journey through historical figures spanning over 30 years reflects a growing interest among Latinas born in the United States or Latina migrants in bettering themselves and enhancing their professional and financial aspirations.

The upward trend observed since the beginning of the new millennium is also a reflection of Latinas striving for better job and career positions and greater prominence within American society.

What Are The Contributing Factors For The Increase In Latina Graduates?

Part of the trend of higher education Latina graduates in the United States has to do with high school resources, potential mentors, affinity cultural groups and social programs that promote higher education. It can take a village.

An example of this work is carried out by the organization Latinas with Masters, which promotes empowerment of Latinas in the field of education in the United States through connecting Latinas who have obtained bachelor and master degrees with those who aspire to, connect their community with scholarship or masters programs and more!

Another factor that may influence the increase in the numbers of Latinas with postgraduate degrees is their geographical location within the North American territory. A study surveying the American Community mentions that over 50% of Latinos with postgraduate studies live in the major cities of the country, including Miami and New York.

Considering that a significant percentage of Latinos with postgraduate degrees are women with access to better opportunities in major U.S. cities, geographical location can be considered a factor of great positive influence on academic attainment.

The Quality of Life of A Latina Graduate 

Of course, an inherent effect of the increasing number of Latinas with postgraduate degrees is the direct impact on quality of life. The numbers speak for themselves; studies from the Pew Research Center mention that by 2023, the likelihood of a Latina obtaining a bachelor's degree is higher than in 2013.

These recent indices motivate Latinas in our society, especially those who seek professional onboarding or advancement rather than leaving their future to chance. This, in turn, sets an example of overcoming obstacles for Latinas currently in high school who maintain aspirations for further education at the postgraduate level.

Another important figure is the participation of Latinas in the country's labor force. According to Pew Research Center, women have increased our participation in the workforce by about 4 points since 2013, reaching 65% in 2023. This data supports the increase in enrollment and professional work attainment of Latinas and encourages the economic sector to provide greater on ramps to career opportunities for Latinas.

Similarly, women have managed to reduce the gender wage gap through professional careers. In this regard, the study conducted by Pew Research indicates that the salary of Latinas has increased by 17% over the past 10 years (up to 2023), reaching an average hourly wage of $19.23 and positively impacting income levels. Despite a rise in salaries, there still exists a wealth gap where Latinas make .54 cents to every dollar a white non-Latino man makes.  

According to Fortune, census data analyzed by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute shows Latinas with a bachelor's degree or higher are paid on average $26 per hour, lower than most college-educated workers regardless of race and gender, said co-author Misael Galdámez, senior research analyst at UCLA.

Persistent Bottlenecks in the Advancement of US Latinas

While significant progress has been made in the rise of Latina graduates in the United States, there are social and economic factors that prevent more Latinas from joining postgraduate programs each year.

The Pew Research report mentions that 7 out of 10 Latinos surveyed stated they do not have the possibility to study because they are the economic support of their family. Among this figure, many are Latinas who are the sole breadwinners of their households and cannot afford four years of studies.

The economic factor undoubtedly has the most negative impact on the right to professional education for Latinas. The same report mentions that it is unlikely for a Latino student to incur debt to pay for their studies, and transportation can also be a hindrance to pursuing postgraduate education.

Motivation is another personal and social factor that has contributed to the limited increase in the number of Latinas with postgraduate degrees. The study notes that 40% of the Latinas surveyed indicate they simply do not want to pursue a university degree. It is not ruled out that economic conditions may be behind the discouragement to continue their studies.

Stronger Educational and DEI Policies

While Latinas have been gaining more graduation traction in university enrollment and in the workforce, greater efforts are needed in private and public policies to provide opportunities for professional growth.

Upon analyzing the current DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) situation of anti-DEI movements in the United States, the question arises of what will happen to that percentage of Latinas who will not benefit from DEI programs at higher education and in the workplace? What new programs will arise to ensure that the rate of  Latina graduates continues to grow? And the overall greater Latino community continues to advance?

We need more educational affinity groups like Latinas with Masters to nurture community, and changes at the academic and government policy level. As a greater community, we need to build stronger solidarity and to champion Latina talent. After all, these high school Latina graduates will become the leaders of tomorrow for the United States.

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