Depending on students’ immigrant generation, parents of Hispanic young people (ages 14-18) use different social networks to support their children’s enrollment in a four-year college or university. Schools and communities can better support Hispanic families by making use of these networks.

Parents of third-generation Hispanic young people (meaning both parents were born in the USA) find it easier to use school-based social capital – connections with the school and access to the school’s help – to prepare children for college. In contrast, parents of first-generation Hispanic youth (meaning the children were born outside the USA) benefit more from connections with other parents to get their children into college.

Researchers, Sarah Ryan and Robert Ream, looked at Hispanic families of different generations and how parents access help through different social networks and different forms of “social capital”. They examined:

  • How often parents contacted the child’s school about a student’s academic progress and future plans.
  • How often parents advised their children about college preparation.
  • How often parents interacted with parents of other students, for example, by exchanging favours and advice on college education.

They used data collected from 1,880 Hispanic young people between 2002 and 2006 as part of the Education Longitudinal Study.

Overall, Hispanic young people remain less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree than white students who are similar in other characteristics—a significant problem of inequality. Never before has college education been so important for economic and social wellbeing.

The research shows that social capital, though often overlooked, can help support successful college preparation and enrollment among Hispanic youth. Schools and communities can do more to support Hispanic parents as they help their children prepare for four-year college. But this support must acknowledge the unique needs and assets of Hispanic parents across student immigrant generations.