Foundation series

A Denver scholarship foundation wanted to know how to help Hispanic men get to college. Here’s what he found

April 20, 2022

What barriers do Hispanic men face in getting into college and graduating?

That’s the question Denver Scholarship Foundation leaders asked Hispanic men about their challenges. They variably mentioned a lack of funds, information, support and individual attention, as well as family responsibilities.

None of this was surprising. But the strong sense of obligation students have to community and family and how it stifles individual ambition caught the attention of foundation leaders.

“It’s not easy for young brown men,” said Nate Cadena, the foundation’s chief operating officer. “There are certain roles, certain expectations, certain cultural norms, that don’t necessarily invite individualism, especially if it takes them away from their extended family or their community. There’s this unspoken language of their culture – their community – which does not necessarily mean fostering individualism and exploration.”

The foundation, which helps Denver-area students navigate college, has sent about 82% of its scholars to college. But college attendance and graduation rates for Hispanic men have proven tricky. For example, Hispanic women served by the foundation reached college twice as fast as their male counterparts.

Want to learn more about the challenges Hispanic men face getting to college and graduating? You can read Chalkbeat Colorado’s two-part series on the matter here:

To better understand the problem, leaders of the Denver Scholarship Foundation brought together Hispanic men with different college experiences. The foundation spoke with those who never went to college, stopped going, and graduated.

“They said it was important to feel that they were being spoken to individually,” Cadena said, “There was so much rich information to take away from it. But a lot of it reinforced what we thought and knew.”

The struggle to get Hispanic men into college is an important issue for the state.

About two in five Hispanic men who graduate from a Colorado high school go on to college. When they arrive at university, most have not graduated. In Colorado’s four-year public universities, only 41% of Hispanic men graduate. At community college, less than a third graduate.

The low numbers play into Colorado’s big gaps in those with a college education and those without. About 61% of all Colorado residents have a college degree, compared to only a quarter of Hispanic residents.

Cadena said the problem needs to be addressed, particularly because 1 in 5 Coloradans identify as Hispanic.

Cadena said bringing more Hispanic men to college is about opportunity and freedom for individuals and families. It breaks generational cycles of poverty. Research shows that people with a college education have better access to health care. Residents who hold a college degree also have higher earning potential and a greater ability to do what they want in life.

“If we let this continue, we are almost resigned to it. We allow everything to go well,” Cadena said. “This is unacceptable.”

The foundation found that students who had never been to college learned early in life that they didn’t have the money to go. No one told them they could thrive academically. The report compiled by the foundation said many respondents felt going to college was not something they could achieve.

Those who never finished college often made decisions based on bad advice from an early age, the report said. Some attended schools far from home, had no contact with the campus community, and did not get the information, money, or mental health services they needed to complete their education.

Hispanic men who graduated reported having family support. Or they decided to continue their studies despite the costs and had teachers or mentors who saw their potential. They received encouragement from an early age.

Cadena said respondents knew college provided access to a better life.

Those who went to college spoke of expanding their network and job prospects. Those who never went to college said they wanted to push their children to go for more opportunities. This group became mainly entrepreneurs in labor-intensive jobs, but at the cost of their bodies and their time.

Cadena said the fact that all groups recognize the value of college makes the case for providing tailored help for individuals. He said the survey indicated the possibility of lifting people out of their norms.

“There was a recognition that the university breaks cycles,” Cadena said, “and that it breaks generational cycles.”