While recent data from Strada Education Network’s Public Viewpoint: COVID-19 Work and Education Survey shows Latinos are more likely than white, black, or Asian Americans to have lost income or working hours due to the pandemic, they also are more open to embracing education as a potential solution. That data point is no surprise to Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, a Strada grantee.

“For once, I would love to finally dispel this myth that Latinos don’t value education,” Santiago said during a recent webinar about the survey results hosted by the Strada Center for Consumer Insights. “We’ve known for years that’s not the case. …When you ask them if they think they can get additional education, you’re seeing the answer is yes. That means that to even maintain their standard of living, much less improve it, we know that education is core.”

Strada researchers have teamed up with Heart+Mind Strategies to gather the viewpoints of currently more than 5,000 Americans on how they are coping, week-by-week, with COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders to stop the deadly virus’ spread. Now researchers have collected enough responses to look at race and ethnicity trends, confirming that people of color, especially Latino and black Americans, have been disproportionately impacted.

Specifically, African Americans are the most likely to have suffered actual layoffs, and the survey data show that Latinos have experienced the most widespread reduction in income through job loss, reduction of wages or work hours, or lost income to their businesses. Latinos and Asian Americans also are more likely to say they would need further education to replace a lost job.

Demographic trends indicate that a majority of students heading to college for decades to come will be from low-income, first-generation, or minority families, and Santiago says it’s past time to acknowledge that these cohorts have great potential but also may need tailored support to succeed in college and in the workforce.

“This is the growth population in our country,” she said of Latinos, “and looking at what happens to us in education and the workforce has significant implications for all of us, whether or not we’re in this population. Thinking about policy and practice in that realm is really going to be important.”

The good news, she says, is that by truly serving Latino students in particular, but also African  American and other minority and low-income students of all races, educational institutions can increase opportunity for all students.

She offers these tips for engaging with Latino students and helping them to succeed:

  1. Acknowledge that Latino students often are juggling multiple responsibilities in multigenerational households. In close-knit families — before, during, and after the pandemic — students typically manage not only school and work to help support their relatives, but also childcare, eldercare, and healthcare challenges. In the era of COVID-19, which is severely impacting minority communities in particular, these challenges are exacerbated. Even when students are able to return to brick-and-mortar colleges, they may resist doing so for fear of bringing illness home to their families, Santiago says. “It’s not just about them; it’s also about their parents and grandparents who might be more vulnerable to this virus,” she says. “Institutions will need to adjust and adapt to that reality.”
  2. Address technology disparities. Many Latino students share electronic devices with siblings. With K-12 schools and colleges and universities abruptly moving to an on-line teaching and learning environment, students must take turns with other family members who also are studying and working online. Latino students are more likely to rely on cell phones than laptops, Santiago says, and education must meet them there.
  3. Provide high-touch interventions. From recruitment and acceptance, to enrollment, to graduation, engage with students to know who they are, understand their academic and non-academic challenges, and figure out which individual supports will be most effective in helping them reach their goals. This includes improving mental health services at educational institutions, Santiago says, noting that every institution she has talked to during the pandemic acknowledges this as a need and is struggling to address it.
  4. Focus on improving adult education. Many of the same strategies that would support adult students also work for traditional-age college students, and many interventions aimed at Latino students will benefit students across all races and ethnicities. Focusing on skills-building and career-related class offerings attracts students of all ages, as does flexible class scheduling to accommodate learners who are working part- or full-time.
  5. Leverage data to identify what’s working for whom, and why. Lessons learned from specific populations of students can help educators tailor culturally relevant interventions for other students with similar backgrounds, experiences, and challenges. And data is a powerful tool in helping policymakers and potential funders understand where their focus should be and what types of programs produce the best return on their investments. 

To learn more about Excelencia’s work and to hear directly from Latino students on what’s working for them, view the organization’s success stories. 

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