GSE Faculty Work to Create Access and Supports for Latinx/a/o Students in Higher Education

Because less than 1% of faculty in higher education are Latinx/a/o, institutions such as Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE) are looking for ways to support Latinx groups getting into the education pipeline by paving the way. GSE Assistant Professor Dr. Nichole Garcia says, “The hope is that we can make it in and graduate and hopefully redesign how institutions look because Latinos/as are the fastest-growing minority in the US.” GSE Associate Professor Dr. Ebelia Hernández reveals, “People assume Latinos are underprepared and unqualified, but there are many bright students who are very competitive but because of finances, they can’t reach their highest potential.” There are several flaws in the education system that holds Latinx groups back when it comes to attaining higher education. However, GSE faculty have a vision of empowering students to pursue careers in higher education.

Dr. Garcia conducts comparative studies focusing on group differences between Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, specifically those who have a college education or have college educators within their family. Her work also examines Latinx subgroups. Dr. Hernández’s research revolves around the Latino students’ college experience; including college choice, engagement, and holistic development.


A major issue that inhibits Latinos’ ability in advancing their education is the lack of financial support via need-based aid. Dr. Hernández’s research on the impact of the “financial glass ceiling” on college choice states, “Some students could have gotten into more elite schools, but they didn’t because they couldn’t afford it. They got accepted, but they couldn’t get there because they didn’t have the funds to get there.” Shortage of funds and resources is detrimental when it comes to students striving to achieve their academic goals as it keeps them from getting into or continuing at a higher education institution. Through her research, Dr. Hernández points out the weakness in financial aid policies as she explains that students generally receive adequate aid packages their first year, but the financial support diminishes in the following years. This results in students having to decide if they wish to continue at their institution and potentially accumulate significant debt because they already feel invested to their institution, or transfer due to the stress and inability to pay or drop out of school entirely.

With this in mind, Dr. Hernández brings to light the realities for Latinx families and financial aid. She states, “Students think about their families a lot when they’re thinking about the best choice when it comes to universities. They don’t want to put their parents into debt. They are very cognizant of that. Maybe they have brothers and sisters who are also trying to get into university.” Dr. Hernández envisions an education process that benefits students by allowing their families to take part in the experience. “There should be stronger partnerships between universities and Latino families. Students’ families should be part of the process. They should be invited and welcomed to experience what it’s like to go to college.”

Greater Latino representation in higher education is a key goal for Dr. Garcia. She highlights the importance for intuitions to take responsibility, create partnerships, and initiate change to help students – she states, “I’m always looking to community partnerships, how programs or college access is happening not just in high school, but how it’s happening in K-12 because really middle school is where it really matters the most. Going into ninth grade you are already going to be tracked into where you need to go to be ready for college. Making those interventions, institutions really need to hold themselves accountable as well as faculty that occupy these institutions. One intervention is making sure these community partnerships are established and working with colleges of education because of our expertise.”

Moreover, Dr. Garcia focuses on the many factors that lead to a student’s college readiness. “A part of college readiness is college access and college choice. I’m really concerned with college access. Other scholars and I have identified that getting into the elementary school first, and then middle schools really does make that difference as you have a pipeline already ready. When you’re going into high school you need to know that AP, IP, and honors courses need to be taken in order for you to get straight into a four-year school. Community colleges can also be a viable option. It really depends on what track you want to take given the limitations.” It is crucial that K-12 educators supply guidance to their students which will allow them the opportunity to not only enter the education pipeline, but also remain in it.

The GSE is committed to Advancing Excellence and Equity in Education. Creating access and opportunity for Latinos and other minorities in higher education is central to that commitment.