Much recent scholarship has considered the persistent gap in college completion rates between Latino and non-Latino students. This gap is widely seen as a major American social problem given the well documented community and personal benefits of a baccalaureate degree, and the growing share of society that is Latino in background. Yet while many important findings have been reported, the extant literature suffers from two problems: 1) there is often a lack of clarity about how ethnicity might influence college completion rates; and 2) many studies are not comparative in nature, leading to weak inferences about the impact of ethnicity.
I attempt to address both problems in the present critical review of the literature. First, I identify three different types of explanations as to how ethnicity might affect college completion. Second, I identify a number of specific conclusions in each of these areas that can be drawn from the extant literature. In particular, I suggest that the most well supported conclusions pertain to the impact of the average socio-economic status of Latinos relative to non-Latinos. By contrast, arguments about cultural differences (especially pertaining to family relations) and campus climate are provocative but less well supported. Additionally, despite a few claims to the contrary, my review indicates that commonly used college retention models are as applicable to Latino students as non-Latinos. The conclusion to the paper identifies implications for policy and further research.Download PDF