Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S.

Research and video by the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, commissioned by the Eva Longoria Foundation

The UCLA Civil Rights Project (CRP) conducted a study in 2013 to examine the existing knowledge base about promoting Latina educational success, defined as completing high school and then going on to secure a college degree.


Across the nation, there is a rising crisis in the low education levels of Latino youth. While nearly 35% of white adults hold a BA degree or higher, only 15% of adult Latinos do. The situation is even worse in California, the state with the largest number of Latinos, where only about 11% of adult Latinas/os hold a BA degree or higher. Given that the majority of the school age population in California is now Latina/o, this under-education is not just an urgent educational problem, but it foreshadows an economic issue for California, and the nation.

Although Latinas complete college at almost twice the rate as their male counterparts, they trail all other women by significant percentages. Two-thirds of Latinas come from low-income families, and many people continue to hold negative stereotypes about Latinas. These factors manifest unique challenges for these young women: they are often expected to prioritize family responsibilities above school; they often feel that they “don’t belong” in school, a feeling that can be reinforced by discrimination and low expectations; they see few models of Latinas who have excelled educationally that they can emulate, and too many lack any understanding of how or even why to pursue a college education.


The Civil Rights Project found a number of important “levers” for improving educational outcomes:Latinas in a classroom

  • Having more Latina/o teachers leads to significantly higher rates of college going for Latinas
  • Maintaining bilingual skills is associated with a higher rate of high school completion and college going
  • Feeling confident about math, and doing well in it, leads to higher rates of high school completion and college going
  • Being involved in extracurricular activities in school is associated with successful high school graduation and college going, and also appears to be related to developing a sense of belonging in school
  • Having a strong personal belief about completing high school and going to college predicts actually doing so
  • Having Peers with the knowledge and aspirations to go to college is associated with college-going

Each of these findings suggests many potential actionable policies:

  1. Recruit and support the development of more Latina/o teachers and counselors
  2. Support the development of bilingualism and biliteracy
  3. Emphasize math development and support for Latinas through math and science clubs and fun projects on every campus that engage young women in the excitement of the field
  4. Attach every Latina student to an extracurricular activity that can bind her to school, e.g., music, art, sports, service clubs, student government
  5. Help parents support their daughters’ belief that they will complete high school and go onto college through programs that target Latinas and their families

As a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Commission), I, along with my fellow Commission members, seek to leverage critical research like the CRP study to better inform Administration educational priorities, key national policies, and federal programs as they pertain to the educational attainment and success of the Latino community.

The President’s 2015 Budget Proposal for Education calls for increased and continued investment in key areas that will have an impact on our Latino youth and families across the country, with a particular focus on equity of opportunity. Our community needs these investments and the support to ensure we make education work for Latinas and Latinos.

For more information on this study, and to watch the video in English or Español see:

To learn more about the Commission’s activities, please visit:

Patricia GandaraDr. Patricia Gándara is Co-Chair of the K-12 Subcommittee of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics ; Professor of Education, University of California, Los Angele (UCLA); Co-Director, The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles