News: Data, Research & Evaluation

How Colleges Can Better Prepare Latino Students for the Workforce

Monday, August 10, 2020  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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Colleges and universities, especially those Hispanic-Serving Institutions enrolling about two-thirds of Hispanic students nationwide, can and should better prepare those students for the workforce, according to a recent report from Excelencia in Education. The report profiles four institutions, Felician University (New Jersey), Florida International University, CUNY Lehman College (New York), and Texas Woman’s University, to understand how they have adapted to make their students more competitive in the workforce.

The report (whose publication was supported by Strada Education Network) finds five strategies consistent across the four case studies:

  1. Workforce preparation is a goal across campus, not just the role of the career services offices.
  2. The institutions have adapted to changes in workforce demands and changes in their student bodies.
  3. Institutions are emphasizing experiential learning opportunities in and outside the classroom to expand access to hands-on learning.
  4. Institutions are revamping their workforce efforts based on data and using data to continually evolve.
  5. The institutions work with local employers to meet the needs of the region and make the transition from school to work easier for their students.

A webinar on July 15 accompanied the report’s release.

Although the report was written before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, its authors revisited the four institutions to better understand how they’re providing continuity of services. They identified concrete practices like providing students with basic needs (e.g., providing housing support, establishing food banks, ensuring access to technology) and shifting both career services and online networking opportunities to virtual delivery. Some of the institutions also worked with Parker Dewey to provide micro-internships “where students can continue to use and hone the skills they’ll need in the workplace.”

Table I of the report (page 9), breaks down the barrier between assumptions and reality around workforce preparation practices on college campuses. For example, although Excelencia found that in the field there’s an assumption that “career services is the primary way institutions link graduates to the workforce,” in their four case studies, these high-performing institutions weave career preparation throughout the entire campus so that it’s everyone’s responsibility. Overall, the table paints a picture of institutions making a workforce preparation shift from being stodgy, conservative, and unmalleable to dynamic, data-driven, and integrated.

The report paints a picture of how to improve workforce preparation in general, but Excelencia notes these changes are especially important for Latino students. For example, because so many Latino students are first-generation, assuming that they will know how to navigate a campus' sprawling bureaucracy to wind up at the door of a career services center is shortsighted; the report notes, “bringing the information to the student instead of waiting for the student to find it can increase participation in different workforce development opportunities, in which Latino students currently have low participation rates.”

Relatedly, the dynamism Excelencia identified that “the institutions have adapted to changes in workforce demands and changes in their student bodies” is critical for Latino students for at least three reasons (page 13):

  1. Expanded availability of services and courses is key for students' ability to access them. Over half of Latinos work while enrolled, and many work over 30 hours a week. Additional hours make it easier for students to make use of what the campus has to offer.
  2. Engaging parents and providing mentorship opportunities is important to creating a sense of community for Latino students. Latinos are more likely than their peers to be the first-generation students. Parents want to be helpful but may not have experience with the college system, so engaging them can help them help their students. Mentors can also play an important role and pass down knowledge to students based on their experiences.
  3. Allowing Latinos to expand their Spanish and use it in a professional setting helps them see their knowledge as an asset, not a deficit. Professional Spanish can also give Latino students a competitive edge in the workforce.

Latino students are a large and growing portion of both higher education enrollment and the workforce. To ensure these students' success (and, in turn, that of communities, states, and our nation), old practices need to change. Excelencia, through this series of case studies, has provided a solid roadmap. NCAN members with the ear of a postsecondary institution, especially a Hispanic-Serving Institution, should send this report to them.

Excelencia in Education, beyond providing excellent resources like this, also administers the Seal of Excelencia program, which is rooted in data, practice, and leadership. In 2019, Excelencia awarded the Seal to nine institutions.

Although not related to workforce preparation, an NCAN report earlier this year examined Hispanic students’ academic undermatch and suggested best practices for members and the field.

Ultimately, the report made the following recommendations, which pivoted away from the idea of shifting students’ matriculation patterns and instead focusing on ensuring students are supported wherever they attend:

  • Engage and educate families early.
  • Meet students where they are.
  • Consider two-year institutions as a bridge to four-year degrees.
  • Offer less-restrictive forms of financial support.
  • Increase college support services.
  • Use student feedback to inform program development.

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