Boosting Hispanic college outcomes with targeted high school interventions

Rates of college completion for Hispanic students have lagged over the past decade even while the number of Hispanic high school graduates has grown. This—combined with issues of disproportionate poverty in Hispanic communities, their growing share of the college-age population, and concerns about racial and economic inequities—has led to an Education Next study examining what might be done to help more Hispanic students enroll in and graduate from college.

The authors examine the effects of the National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP), an intervention undertaken by the College Board to recognize outstanding Hispanic high-school students and encourage them to enroll in college. The initiative identifies the highest performing 2.5 percent of Hispanic students across six geographic regions in the United States. Student eligibility for the award is determined by their eleventh grade Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores, holding a GPA of at least 3.5, and having an ethnicity that is at least one-quarter Hispanic. The NHRP is an intervention that changes two key features of a Hispanic student’s high-school experience: one, the College Board notifies students and school staff about the existence of the NHRP; and, two, with the student’s permission, they share a list of NRHP honorees with postsecondary institutions who are looking to enroll academically exceptional Hispanic students.

The authors construct a national sample of all Hispanic PSAT/NMSQT takers in the U.S. from the graduating classes of 2004 through 2010. They then link individual records to College Board and National Student Clearinghouse datasets, including demographic information, information about eventual college enrollment, high school attended, history of SAT attempts, institutions which received their SAT scores, and AP participation. Also included is information from the Common Core of Data, the Private School Universe Survey, and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which all include further information on certain high school and postsecondary characteristics. The NHRP’s potential impact is measured using a regression discontinuity design, comparing students on either side of the cut-off point for eligibility according to their PSAT/NMSQT scores.

Findings indicate that NHRP eligibility has a significant effect on the college attendance patterns of Hispanic students, inducing more to apply to and attend more institutions where Hispanic enrollment has traditionally been behind their peers. Eligible students are 5 percentage points more likely to attend colleges that recruit Hispanic students through NHRP; 5 percentage points more likely to attend out-of-state institutions; 3 percentage point more likely to attend public flagship universities; and 1.5 percentage points more likely to enroll in a four-year college, with about two-thirds of this effect driven by a movement away from two-year institutions, which the program presumably inspires.

Researchers also look at the program’s impact on college completion and find positive but statistically imprecise results indicating an increase of 1.5 percentage points in the numbers of students who complete their bachelor's degree. The program’s effects on six-year graduation rates appear to yield similar results. And effects are largest for those at the highest risk of dropping out of college, coming from schools with the largest populations of Hispanic students, located in more rural environments, and with students whose parents are likely to have less education. These students are also more likely to enroll at more competitive universities.

Ultimately, there is no financial reward for students who are eligible for the NHRP, and colleges continue to make their own decisions about college applications. But this study shows how a relatively straightforward but targeted intervention from College Board—in its role as facilitator for promoting mutually beneficial communication between schools, students, and colleges—may positively influence the college enrollment decisions and completion outcomes of Hispanic students, especially those at most risk.

SOURCE: Odel Gurantz et al., “Boosting Hispanic College Completion: Does High-School Recruiting Help More Students Graduate?Education Next (Summer 2017).

Andrew Scanlan
Andrew Scanlan is a Research and Policy Associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.