Aid Gap

Latino students come from families with less money, on average, than others -- and they also receive less financial aid. Why?
August 10, 2005

Compared to members of other ethnic and racial groups, Latino students are more likely to be from low-income families. Of Latino undergraduates, 11.7 percent come from families with incomes under $20,000 and another 12.5 percent come from families earning from $20,000 to $39,999. (For all undergraduates, the comparable percentages are 6.5 and 9.6 percent, respectively.)

But when it comes to receiving financial aid, Latino students receive smaller packages on average than members of any other racial ethnic group, according to a report being released today. The report was prepared by Excelencia in Education, a group that promotes the interests of Hispanic students, and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a research organization that focuses on issues of access to college for low-income and minority students.

The report compared Latino and other students on a range of factors, including aid packages for undergraduates, in 2003-4.

Group % of Undergrads Receiving Aid Average Award Size
White 61.3 $6,955
Black 75.7 $6,933
Latino 63.2 $6,253
Asian 51.4 $7,623
American Indian 67.4 $6,413
Native Hawaiian 51.3 $6,763

The statistics raise the question of why Hispanic students have smaller aid packages, and the report offers some clues, but no real answers. The most obvious (and possibly incorrect) explanation is that Latino students receive smaller aid packages because they attend less expensive institutions.

And the report has data that could back up such a thesis. Compared to all undergraduates, Latino students are more likely to be enrolled at community colleges (46.2 percent of Latino students vs. 40.7 percent of all undergraduates) and are slightly less likely to be attending a four-year private college (12.7 of Latino students vs. 13.5 percent of all undergraduates.)

But as Sarita E. Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, says, the data present "a classic chicken and egg question": Do Latino students end up with less aid because they attend less expensive institutions or do they attend less expensive institutions because they receive less aid?

"We can't definitively say," Brown says. While she says it is important to conduct more research to answer the question, she also argues that educators and government officials need not wait for an answer. There is no question, she says, that recruitment efforts should be improved at more expensive public and private colleges so that more Hispanic students enroll as freshmen. But at the same time, since so many enroll at community colleges (for financial or other reasons), more must be done to help students transfer.

Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, believes that there is "a combination of factors" at play to explain the gap in aid for Latino students. It's not just a question of whether aid exists, he says, but whether students and their families know about it.

"I think that part of what is going on is that information available to Latino students is not very good," Merisotis says. "I think part of what's going on is that Latino students are missing opportunities because of a lack of information."

The report stresses that different subgroups of Latino students -- by economic and cultural background -- fare differently with regard to aid. For example, Latino students whose families come from Cuba receive larger aid packages on average ($6,923) than do those whose families are from Mexico ($6,388) or Puerto Rico ($6,172).

Among the report's other findings from 2003-4:

  • The federal government is the key source of aid for Latino students. Half of Hispanic undergraduates receive federal aid, while only 16 percent receive state aid, and 17 percent receive institutional aid.
  • Half of Latino students receive grants to pay for college, while only 30 percent receive loans. But the average loan size ($5,620) is larger than the average grant ($3,810).
  • While Latino  participation rates in most financial aid programs have increased since 1995-6, the percentage of Latinos receiving institutional aid (17 percent) has been level.


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