Researchers help Latinx students make post-high school plans

First published in Around the O on October 15, 2020.

Researchers from the College of Education are designing ways to boost Latinx student enrollment and success in college by engaging families, teachers and counselors.

Latinx Education After Public School, also known as LEAPS,  works with Latinx students beginning in middle school to provide meaningful information about the paths available to them after graduating from high school. Between eighth and ninth grade and then between ninth and 10th grade, students and their families attend a summer academy with college counselors to open discussions about college and career trajectories for students.

Each session takes place over two days and will likely be held at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The goal is to introduce prospective first-generation college students to a university campus and to familiarize them with how it feels and where things are,” said principal investigator Heather McLure, assistant research professor in the College of Education and director of the UO’s Center for Equity and Promotion.

Establishing personal connections between families and counselors opens an avenue to discuss practical steps and family-based choices that will give students wide-ranging, post-graduation opportunities. Connecting with students and families will also give counselors a more comprehensive understanding of the Latinx community.

“We hope that counselors and teachers learn through LEAPS about Latinx family and cultural assets that can be built upon in school settings for the greater academic and socioemotional success of Latinx students,” McLure said.

LEAPS is a four-year project with $1.5 million in funding going to the  Center for Equity and Promotion and the University of Texas at Austin.

The UO’s team is comprised of McClure, methodologist Mark Van Ryzin, project manager Betsy Ruth and research assistant Elijah Ruth-Cheff.

Their research has found that Latinx parents are eager to support their students’ success, but may not know the practical steps that post-secondary education requires. They are often frustrated because language barriers and limited cultural knowledge limits their engagement at the high school level.                         

A primary goal of LEAPS is finding ways to further engage Latinx families with schools by making administrators, counselors and teachers more aware of issues facing the Latinx community in education.

In 2017, 36 percent of Latinos ages 18-24 enrolled in college, an increase from previous years. Though their enrollment numbers are on the rise, Latinos have a lower degree attainment rate compared to other racial groups.

In 2019, 20 percent of Latinos in the workforce had a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30 percent of African Americans, 40 percent of whites and 61 percent of Asians.

Since much of its work focuses on racial and ethnic disparities in health and education, LEAPS could help answer questions about how to reduce opportunity gaps in education due to race, in addition to other benefits.

“We think LEAPS could improve the culturally responsive practices of schools, strengthen Latinx families and school personnel relationships, and boost the academic and socioemotional outcomes of Latinx students, including increased enrollment in post-secondary education,” McClure said.

By Meghan Mortensen, College of Education