Latino student standing in front of lockers in a hallway.

Study Reveals Reasons Latino Men Experience an ‘Opportunity Gap’

December 2, 2016
By: Renae Lias Claffey

Researchers at Worcester State University and MIT set out to examine why fewer than 6 percent of Latino young men who enter ninth grade in the commonwealth’s urban areas complete a four-year course of study at the college level. Some of the major findings of a year-long research study, In Search of Opportunity: Latino Men’s Paths to Post-Secondary Education in Urban Massachusetts, are:

  • Many Latino young men do not view higher education as a prerequisite to achieving their aspirations
  • Many parents and students are debt-averse, which prompts them to see higher education as out of reach
  • Middle school is a defining, yet difficult period for youth that for a variety of reasons can push students away from the path to a four-year college credential
  • Latino communities routinely face multiple stressors such as poverty, low English-language proficiency, and high mobility that negatively affect school attendance, students’ ability to focus, and other factors that impact a student’s hope for academic advancement

The report, presented at a meeting held Wednesday, November 30, 2016, at Emmanuel College, exposes the multi-faceted issues and obstacles that too often stand in the way of this population completing college as well as points of strength and resiliency that improve life opportunities.

Authored by Thomas Conroy, Ph.D., Mary Jo Marion, and Timothy Murphy, Ph.D., all from Worcester State University, and Elizabeth Setren from MIT, the report focuses on five Massachusetts cities: Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke, and Lawrence.

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, the report offers vivid narratives of the complicated lives of these young men. According to Conroy, chair and assistant professor of Urban Studies at WSU, “From the beginning, we set out to push beyond a statistical study by infusing the numbers with real-life stories. Some of the stories are inspiring and others are tragic, but all are important in order to gain an understanding of the complexities at work here.”

Mary Jo Marion, assistant vice president of urban affairs and executive director of the Latino Education Institute at WSU, noted: “The study amplifies the voice of young men of color in our urban communities and points to areas of change including K-12 reforms, increased economic stability, and making higher education responsive to the real-life goals and dilemmas encountered by urban youth.”

“The vast majority of Latino/a undergraduates, 79 percent, are enrolled at a public college or university,” said Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos E. Santiago, Ph.D., who also offered remarks at the meeting. “Yet six years after beginning their studies, less than one-third of these students have earned a college credential. We are making progress to change this dynamic, but it is both a moral and economic imperative that we pick up the pace of change to ensure that every young Latino male in the commonwealth has an opportunity to earn college credentials.”

Assistant Professor of Urban Studies Timothy Murphy, the study’s lead researcher, said, “Listening to Latino men talk about their future aspirations throughout their lives, beginning from the time they were young, provided much insight into the interplay of different domains of their lives, from families to peers to institutions of education. This method allowed us to capture a nuanced understanding of the men’s relationship to higher education, revealing the need for specific types of intervention and more in-depth research on local communities.”

WSU President Barry M. Maloney has expressed strong support for Worcester State’s research in this area. “This report helps us better understand why underrepresented groups such as Latino men are not completing college at the same rate as other groups,” he said. “Worcester State University’s research in this area provides some clues about why this happens, and some directions for addressing the achievement gap. Education leaders at all levels can learn from this.”

The report was funded by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation and the Boston Foundation. It can be found on a hyperlink in the Latino Male Outcomes section, at the Latino Education Institute’s Research and Publications page and at

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