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Why Latinx students may take longer to graduate

Why Latinx students may take longer to graduate
September 30, 2021 Heather Janak

Why Latinx students may take longer to graduate

According to the Joint Economic Committee the highest percentage of individuals in the labor force are the Latinx community at 62%. However, just 17-20% of the Latinx community attends college. Latinx in STEM researcher Dr. Noemi Mendoza Diaz hopes to change this.

Dr. Noemi Mendoza Diaz

Dr. Noemi Mendoza Diaz

“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 Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development. She researches engineering and technology education and entrepreneurship in STEM with a focus on the Latinx community in STEM.

Time to graduate for Latinx community study

Her recent study analyzed student data focused on the ‘time to graduate’ outcome of underrepresented populations, emphasizing the Latinx/Hispanics group.

Results showed that depending on the multilevel (HLM) model, a significant difference exists between the number of terms taken to graduate for underrepresented groups, including Latinos/Hispanics, compared to white groups and for Black compared to white groups. She also found that the data lacked true representation of the Latinx community.

She analyzed data from MIDFIELD, a database that contains student record data from 1988-2018 for all undergraduate, degree-seeking students at 19 institutions.

“The database allocates a little more than 1.5 million of 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 and analyzed the time to graduate between different groups based on gender, race and ethnicity.

“We found that for the overall institutions-first model (null 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 (conditional model), the difference was only significant for the Black community, therefore, taking more time to graduate per institution.”

In the MIDFIELD sample, on average, Latinx first time in college engineering students took 26.5 terms, 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.

Mendoza Diaz said although the study highlights the difficulties that the Latinx community can encounter in higher education, she realized that 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 involves knowing the personal experiences and stories and putting names and faces to the data.

Why time to graduate varies

Earlier research by higher education scholar Dr. Luis Ponjuán said that Latinx male students have similar challenges in their adjustment to college, which can affect their degree completion — 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 who utilize public funds. The data should drive research, 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.

Dr. Noemi Mendoza Diaz’s recent article is titled “Time to Graduate for Latinos/Hispanics in Comparison to Other Diverse Student Groups: A Multi-Institutional/ Multilevel MIDFIELD Study”.

About the Writer


Heather is responsible for news coverage in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, as well as the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development.

Articles by Heather

For media inquiries, contact Justin Elizalde.

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