Diversity Issues in Higher Education: Hispanic/LatinX Barriers

A smiling woman and the text Diversity Issues in Higher Education.

According to Excelencia in Education, trend data suggests the two fields most likely to be pursued by Hispanics/LatinX undergraduate students are business and health professions. As thought leaders in this space, a group of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) higher education professionals led by Dr. Jan Wyatt, Peggy Moriarty-Litz, Dr. Denise Bisaillon, Kirstin Bibbiani, Marcy Vadurro, Jada Hebra, and myself, aimed to advance our knowledge regarding Latinas in nursing and health professions. On Jan. 9, this group convened at the 2018 New Hampshire Action Coalition (NHAC) Annual Summit for Nursing Leadership, Practice, and Education held on SNHU's campus. The goal was to provide research-based insights to increase diversity and inclusion in nursing practice, promote a culture of health in the workplace, and review national and local workforce data, which can be applied toward recruiting and retaining nurses and health professionals in the future.

Participants, who are nurses, health professionals and educators in the New England region, learned about the barriers to Hispanic/LatinX post-secondary degree attainment, the need for cultural competence and awareness of diversity and inclusion issues in healthcare settings, leadership needs for Hispanic/LatinX millennial nurses and opportunities for mentorship support, and a new vision in building connections and possibilities for diversity and inclusion in all workplace settings. The NHAC summit concluded with a call to action for members to create partnerships with educational and community organizations to advance the recruitment and retention of Hispanic/LatinX professionals and build awareness through education of the challenges facing this growing population.

Raul Galarza

Population demographic researchers have been predicting that the Hispanic/LatinX (LatinX is the gender neutral alternative to commonly used terms: Latino or Latina) ethnic group will be the largest minority group within the next two decades. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that nearly 20% of all public school kindergarteners in 17 states identify as Hispanics/LatinX. Those children will grow up to be part of our future incoming student classes at all colleges and universities. According to the 2013 ASHE Higher Education Report, getting all the way through a college degree continues to be a challenge for this group compared to other ethnic groups. Hispanics/LatinX graduate with a college degree at a lower rate than all other ethnic groups. The last 35 years of data demonstrates a continued pay gap in hourly earnings for this population compared to other groups, in part due to low degree attainment.

Cultural Sensitivity for Hispanics/LatinX in Higher Education and Beyond

Higher education research has advanced understanding of how Hispanics/LatinX students feel about their traditional college and university experiences, though much of that research emphasizes intercultural comparisons and preferences for online education. There are few studies focused on how Hispanics/LatinX experience online higher education. Designing a culturally sensitive online educational experience could be beneficial for all who need to balance educational pursuits with familial responsibilities. In particular, Hispanics/LatinX consider a family first (or "familismo") approach as an essential cultural value. Researchers suggest that the inclusion and celebration of cultural identity has a positive correlation with behaviors leading to academic success, and ultimately the completion of a degree.

In our current political environment, the need for cultural sensitivity has never been greater. This is especially true for people who identify as Hispanic/LatinX or those who work alongside members of this growing population. To be cultural sensitive, one must:

  • Acknowledge the existence of cultural characteristics and values.
  • Demonstrate care and concern over others.
  • Maintain a willingness to understand others' perspectives.
  • Preserve respect and appreciation of others.
  • Adapt to the needs of others.

For one to maintain or gain cultural sensitivity, they must encounter individual or group diversity and be aware of the impact they have on their current and future relationships. Getting along with others means seeing them for whom they are, respecting (though not always agreeing with) their perspective, and working together through life's challenges.

As a foundation of our society aimed at creating "prepared minds" for the enrichment of the communities we live in, colleges and universities can certainly contribute by enlightening people young and old about the diversity in cultural perspectives, improving intercultural communication skills, and positively influencing productivity in workplaces across the country. A recent McKinsey article highlights that organizations in the top quartile for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform their industry's average. Diversity and inclusion is no longer a "feel good" issue. There is a growing organizational imperative to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, and that means finding that future workforce amongst the ranks in the academy.

The workforce in the United States is getting more diverse. In fact, the Hispanic/LatinX share of the workforce has increased by 3% in the last decade whereas the percentage of white workers decreased by over 5%. There has been a shift toward healthcare and professional/business services as well, making them the largest employed sectors in the country. In an effort to support educating more Hispanics/LatinX into those industries, efforts are ongoing at SNHU to leverage community partners and build support for our students. A new group, led by Dr. Michael Newhouse-Bailey, Dr. Mark Hobson, myself, and Stephen Thiel is currently working to leverage our Major League Soccer partnership and institutional student community resources to build mentoring opportunities and encourage Hispanic/LatinX student degree completion.

Opening Doors for Hispanics/LatinX

Jada Hebra, SNHU's chief diversity officer, makes the analogy that organizations are composed of individuals with "doors" of many different colors, styles and shapes. These doors are all of the same type, but outwardly appear to the world in unique ways. Behind those doors are many things we can't see and don't know anything about. If we enable ourselves, through broadening our education, to be invited in, actually step inside, and respectfully explore what is behind that door, we can experience how rich our layered and complex identities are. The efforts described here are intended to do just that. To open doors so that others can respectfully walk in, celebrate our differences and share in our commonalities. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood." It is time to open our doors.

Dr. Raul Galarza brings over two decades of experience leading change in student recruitment, retention, teaching and operations for a diverse group of post-secondary institutions in the Midwest and Northeast. His inspired commitment to diversity and inclusion includes the design of an innovative academic advising model in his master's degree thesis and his Northeastern University doctoral research on Hispanic/Latino student interactions leading to student persistence and satisfaction in an online university platform. Galarza is the assistant vice president for enrollment support services at SNHU Online, a founding member of the SNHU Online Diversity Council and strategic partner on various diversity and inclusion related initiatives at SNHU.