While overall college attendance fell between 2011 and 2012, a record 49% of Hispanic high school graduates aged 18-24 enrolled in college. There are now over 2.4 million Hispanic individuals in college, comprising over 16% of all students. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics , the number of Hispanic graduates has also increased significantly since the turn of the century.

Hispanic graduates from higher education programs

1999-2000 2009-2010
Associate 51,573 112,211
Bachelor’s 75,059 140,316
Master’s 19,384 43,535
Doctor’s 5,039 8,085

Personal testimony of an undocumented college student

Photo of Shareny Diaz

Shareny Diaz fought against the odds and attended college as an undocumented student. Read on to learn about her inspiring journey.

I am 26 years old and a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I was brought to this country by my parents at the age of two and have lived in the Bronx ever since. I attended The City College of New York as an undergraduate and graduated in 2011. I am currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY and I work at the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at CUNY. The Institute promotes higher education within the Mexican community, fosters research pertaining to Mexico and Mexicans in the United States and collaborates with community-based organizations to support and empower New York’s Mexican community.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to attend college and graduate at a time before DACA existed. I was told many times that, because of my undocumented status, I wouldn’t be able to attend college. Under the guidance of a professor from NYU, I decided to apply to college anyway. Through her network, I received the information and tools I needed to apply as an undocumented student. I even received a partial scholarship that helped finance my first six semesters.

It was a hard journey to navigate the system as a first generation, undocumented student. I had to ask for help every step of the way and learn about my rights and the opportunities available to me. With the support of my parents, I was able to finance college and become the first in my family to earn a college degree. Reality struck at graduation, though: despite my degree, I couldn’t contribute to society, since I was undocumented and couldn’t legally work.

DACA was passed a year after I graduated, and it has completely changed my life. I now work at a place that provides guidance and financial support to students who, like me, are unable to receive state or federal aid to finance their educations. My job provides me with enormous satisfaction, knowing that my work will help students get through college with one fewer obstacle. With the scholarship opportunity offered by the Institute, our students are able to focus on their education and not worry about how to pay for next semester.

Although 83% of Hispanic high school students want to attend college, a 2014 study by ACT found that less than 25% met three out of the four “ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.” By comparison, 39% of non-Hispanic students met that standard. Furthermore, only 62% of Hispanic students begin college in the fall after their high school graduation, compared to 71% of all graduates. Retention rates are also lower, with just 73% of students continuing into their sophomore year.

Several obstacles prevent Hispanic students from furthering their education. The following guide will help students prepare for college and learn about the resources and assistance that will help them realize their goals.

One of the biggest hurdles Hispanic students face is paying for college. A 2011 report found that the average annual salaries for Hispanic workers were $29,692 and $26,936 for males and females, respectively. Conversely, the average salaries for white workers were $50,440 and $39,052.

Many Hispanic students live in low-income households, and most prospective applicants would be the first members of their family to attend college. These families are not only unfamiliar with the financial aid process, but must also find a way to pay for school without relying on federal financial aid.

Even in high school, students can access resources to reduce the financial burden of attending college. One of the best resources available is a fee waiver for college entrance examinations, including the SAT and ACT. Both standardized testing organizations want to eliminate educational barriers, and they waive 100% of fees for students who meet specific requirements. More information can be found on their websites:


  • What is FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a federal form that must be filled out by all college students hoping to receive financial aid. Although undocumented students aren’t eligible for funds at the federal level, they may be eligible for state-level funds, depending on where they live. For Hispanic U.S. citizens, students use their family’s financial information to see if they qualify for grants and loans.
  • Any tips for filling it out? When filling out the FAFSA, undocumented students may be confused about a question that asks, “Are you a U.S. Citizen?” They should select the answer that states “No, I am not a citizen or eligible noncitizen,” because even if they have DACA, they are not eligible for federal funds.
  • Pitfalls? There are a few things to watch out for regarding the FAFSA. One of the biggest is taking too long to fill out the form. Funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so students should be ready with all of their financial documents at the start of the year. For students with divorced parents, financial information must be based off the income of the parent with whom they live the majority of the time, whether or not this is their legal guardian.

Grants and Job opportunities

Hispanic students interested in changing the educational landscape for their communities can research and learn about educational policies, communication tactics and outreach programs focused on the Latino community through the White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics . The program allows undergraduate and graduate students to work alongside policy titans at the U.S. Department of Education while attending events on Capitol Hill, the White House, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.

When selecting a school, many students are drawn toward colleges and universities that identify as Hispanic Serving Institutions, or HSIs. According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, more than 270 schools throughout the U.S bear this classification. To become an HSI, schools must have a minimum enrollment of 25% Hispanic students, including part and full-time, undergraduate and graduate. Once receiving HSI status, schools qualify for Title V and certain Title III grants to provide funding for their students. Other benefits include scholarships, paid internship opportunities, conferences, free travel and advocacy.

Best value HSI colleges

School Tuition & Fees Location
Eastern New Mexico University $4,558 Portales, NM
Texas A&M International University $5,818 Laredo, TX
California State University – Monterey Bay $5,963 Seaside, CA
CUNY City College $6,089 New York, NY
CUNY Lehman College $6,108 Bronx, NY
University of California – Fullerton $6,186 Fullerton, CA
New Mexico State University $6,220 Las Cruces, NM
Florida International University $6,496 Miami, FL
San Diego State University $6,766 San Diego, CA
University of New Mexico $6,846 Albuquerque, NM
Adams State University $7,449 Alamosa, CO
Texas State University $8,060 San Marcos, TX
University of Houston $8,401 Houston, TX
University of Texas – Austin $9,798 Austin, TX
Boricua College $11,025 New York, NY

First generation Hispanic students often face obstacles when applying for and enrolling in college. A report by the Pell Institute found that only 11% of first generation students complete four-year degrees, while students in this demographic are twice as likely to drop out as those whose parents attended college. Explanations for why vary between students, but often revolve around finances and support from their families. The resources below offer students information on how to beat the odds and earn a degree.

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals : Many first generation college students of Hispanic descent arrived in America as young children and consider the U.S. their home. DACA provides work permits and deportation exemption for students who emigrated to the U.S. as children, provided that they meet certain conditions.
  • I’m First : First generation students often feel overwhelmed with everything they have to learn about college. I’m First provides a network for these students to ask questions about their classes or any administrative, financial or legal concerns they may have.
  • America Needs You : This New York-based nonprofit focuses on building economic stability for first generation college students through internships, intensive career development opportunities and mentorship programs.
  • ACT – First Generation Student Guide : ACT offers advice for students and their families as they prepare to take the college entrance examination and attend school.
  • Five Things Families of First Generation College Students Need to Know : This Huffington Post article makes excellent points about the types of support that students will need as they attend high school and college.
  • MALDEF : Known as the Latino legal voice for civil rights in America, MALDEF provides insightful legal advice for Hispanic students.
  • My Brother’s Keeper : An initiative created by the White House, My Brother’s Keeper ensures that all youths have access to opportunities allowing them to overcome barriers and improve their lives.

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