Texas A&M: Latinx Students May Take More Time To Graduate Compared To Other Student Groups

According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, the Latinx community makes up the highest percentage of individuals in the labor force at 62%. However, just 17-20% of the Latinx community attends college. This is something Texas A&M University researcher Noemi Mendoza Diaz hopes to change.

“The more I learn about our representation in all areas, such as science, technology, engineering, work force, businesses and college attendance, the more I feel this call to devote my professional life to increasing Latinx participation,” Mendoza Diaz said.

Mendoza Diaz is an assistant professor of technology management in the College of Education & Human Development’s Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development. She researches engineering and technology education and entrepreneurship in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, with a focus on the Latinx community in STEM.

A recently-published study by Mendoza Diaz analyzed student data with a focus on the “time to graduate” outcome of underrepresented populations, particularly among Latinos and Hispanics.

She used the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD), which contains student record data from 1988-2018 for all undergraduate, degree-seeking students at 19 institutions.

The results showed that depending on the multilevel (HLM) model used, a statistically significant difference between the number of terms taken to graduate for underrepresented groups, which includes Latinos/Hispanic, compared to white groups, as well as between Black groups compared to white groups. She also found that the data lacked true representation of the Latinx community.

“The database allocates a little more than 1.5 million records arranged in different tables with a total of 50 fields of information,” Mendoza Diaz said. “These fields include, for example, demographic data, SATs, GPAs, time to graduate, courses taken, transfer info, etc.”

Mendoza Diaz concentrated on first-time-in-college engineering students, comparing the time it took for students of different genders, races and ethnicities to graduate.

“We found that for the overall institutions-first model Latinx did significantly vary in the number of terms to graduate, therefore, take more time to graduate overall,” Mendoza Diaz said. “But when analyzing specific institutions-second model, the difference was only significant for the Black community, therefore, taking more time to graduate per institution.”

On average, Latinx first-time-in-college engineering students took 26.5 terms to graduate, compared to 26 terms for Black students, 25.73 for Native American students, 24.8 for white, 24.24 for Asian and 22.68 for international students. A term is defined as one semester, such as fall or spring, or one “minimester,” such as the shorter winter and summer periods.

Mendoza Diaz said although the study highlights the difficulties that the Latinx community can encounter in higher education, she realized the sample did not match the national representation of the Latinx community, therefore further research must be done.

“We are now talking about including the socioeconomic status as the next variable to contrast in MIDFIELD,” Mendoza Diaz said.

She also hopes to take a qualitative approach, which would take students’ personal experiences and stories into account, and put names and faces to the data.

Earlier research by Texas A&M higher education researcher Luis Ponjuán found that Latinx male students have similar challenges in adjusting to college, which can affect their degree completion. Those challenges include being aware of institutional resources, using their help-seeking behaviors and developing supportive relationships with faculty.

Although higher education can be an equalizer, creating social mobility and empowerment for underrepresented communities, Mendoza Diaz said, systemic reasons like campus culture, climate and policies impacts the length of time to graduate and overall experience for Latinx students.

“The first step is to recognize the problem, and understand it well,” Mendoza Diaz said. “This investigation and publication is a first attempt.”

Mendoza Diaz said institutions should report their data, especially those that utilize public funds. The data should drive research, she said, and the research should consequently drive policies that affect Latinx students.

“I hope to contribute to the realization of the potential and the strategic importance of the Latinx community and other marginalized groups, in the short and long terms,” Mendoza Diaz said.