Latino Access to Higher Education in the State of Washington

Kevin McNellis
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My research focuses on the financial barriers facing Latino college students in Washington. Increasingly, a college education is becoming a necessary requirement in achieving an adequate standard of living in a globalized and technology-based economy.  Latinos, however, are the most underrepresented minority group at college campuses across the state. I asked the following questions:  what economic factors are contributing to Latinos enrolling and gradating at lower rates than their peers?  What financial aid policies and economic trends are contributing to this disparity?  Finally, what are the most feasible policy remedies available for achieving equity in education?

Methods:  The overall academic framework I used to analyze the achievement gap between Latino students and their peers was Critical Race Theory (CRT).  In an educational context, CRT specifically looks at the intersection of race and property, both in terms of cultural and economic capital that privilege certain racial and ethnic groups over others.  Latinos face deficits in both areas, because they are more likely to come from low-income households where neither parent attended college.  This fact led me to study programs that are aimed at overcoming these hurdles. I specifically focused on Educational Talent Search at Walla Walla Community College, which is helping low-income Latino students finance their college educations.


  • Tuition at four-year universities within Washington State has risen at twice the rate of average family income for the last decade, while state spending on higher education has fallen by over 30%.
  • On average, Washington fails to meet the demonstrated financial need of students earning less than $30,000 dollars a year, while exceeding the demonstrated need of students whose families earn more than $50,000 dollars.
  • Educational Talent Search more than doubles college attendance rates of low-income students.


  • Utilize programs like Educational Talent Search to improve enrollment rates of Latino students in the short term.
  • Concurrently, fund a commission for studying the specific problems of access to higher education for Latinos in order to create new and effective policy initiatives.
  • In the long term, increase and maintain the budgets of Washington’s entire higher education system in order to accommodate the ever-increasing number of new college students, the majority of which are Latino.

Community Partner:

Andrew Dankel-Ibanez, Director of Educational Talent Search at Walla Walla Community College.

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