Latinx Learners: Mining an Untapped Prospect Pool

A deep dive into the fastest-growing segment in higher education.

What do we really know about Latinx students—the one higher ed prospect pool that’s actually growing? When Lipman Hearne went looking for the kind of answers that would help our clients, we knew that we had to move beyond the conventional wisdom. And we found the ideal partner for doing so: Univision, the nation’s largest provider of Spanish-language content.

We have to address how an institution can connect Latinx students to a larger sense of purpose.

The result: an online survey of 1,142 U.S. Latinx and non-Latinx prospective students, ages 16-45, who plan to enroll at an undergraduate college or university within the next two years. To get the story behind this survey, we talked to Senior Vice President Kirsten Fedderke, who heads up our enrollment marketing practice.

Lipman Hearne: Univision is consistently the No. 1 destination for national and local Spanish-language content across all platforms. What was it like working with them?

Kirsten Fedderke: We couldn’t ask for a better partner—Univision reaches 95 percent of Hispanic households. And as you’d expect, they’re constantly surveying their audiences.

The partnership emerged from a presentation Univision gave at our office at the end of 2019. They had conducted a comprehensive survey a few years ago and asked some questions about Latinx parents’ attitudes about higher ed. We agreed that our respective clients could benefit from finding out more about the prospects themselves.

We’d been hearing from our clients that there was a tendency to conflate first generation prospects and Latinx students—but that “broad brush” wasn’t yielding the kind of information or results that marketers and enrollment managers needed. By partnering on a survey, Lipman Hearne and Univision could bring complementary perspectives and a high baselines of knowledge to the table. That would help us get to insights and nuances more efficiently.

LH:  Before we get further into the survey, let’s talk terminology. There’s a lot of discussion and even controversy these days about how to refer to this audience.

KF: Yes, that was one of the first things we talked about. Our Univision partners told us that they’ve found “Latinx” is more resonant with the younger generation and prospect pool we wanted to survey. This aligns with what Pew Research found when they surveyed people of Spanish-speaking and Latin-American origin last summer.

LH: And a follow-up: After the 2016 presidential election, we heard a lot about how country of origin resulted in significant differences among Latinx voters. Did you find anything analogous in prospects’ feelings about college?

KF: While we did ask about their family’s country of origin, we found that attitudes and aspirations about higher ed tended to transcend geography.

LH: What was behind the decision to talk to white, non-Latinx students as well as Latinx students?

KF: In their earlier survey, Univision had found that comparing non-Latinx and Latinx parents had yielded some really interesting insights. For example, they found that 86 percent of Hispanic parents believe that it’s very important for their children to earn a college degree. That, in itself, is pretty interesting. But when compared with only 66 percent of non-Hispanic white parents who believe the same, some even more meaningful implications arise.

In the survey we did together, both Latinx and non-Latinx students responded that they had similar hopes for the emotional outcomes of their higher education experience: feeling more confident, discovering their own strengths, and so on. But our Latinx respondents were more likely to say that higher education would help them make a difference in the world. Effective marketing has to address not just opportunities for individual achievement and social mobility, but also how a college or university can connect Latinx students to a larger sense of purpose.

LH: Marketers and enrollment managers will want to dig into the presentation, but what would you say are the big takeaways?

KF: You don’t have to create something totally new, but we found that in terms of some key areas—navigating the process, openness to living away from home, getting support—there are meaningful differences. Here’s a case in point: it’s been a truism in higher ed that Latinx college prospects don’t want to go very far from home. We found there’s a lot more variation in how far students are willing to travel. So marketers need to question their previous assumptions about this cohort, think about how they’re representing Latinx students in their materials, and bring a wider range of voices and stories forward. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to conveying that you understand what these students are looking for and how they’ll thrive on your campus.

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