Latinos were going to college more than ever but Covid-19 is forcing many to drop out

Efren Berrones and Israel Demandel.

(CNN)Efren Berrones grabbed his luggage and booked a 4,000-mile flight home to Houston fearing his mother would be highly vulnerable to Covid-19 and alone.

In the past seven months, Berrones, a sophomore at Hawaii Pacific University, withdrew from school for a semester to stay with his mother, who has several autoimmune disorders. Without a job, he depleted his savings and later, he considered giving up on college when he learned his full-ride scholarship would be partially cut.
"The thought crossed my mind with all of this happening because I started to think, 'how am I gonna afford it?,'" the 20-year-old said.
    College enrollment across the United States has been on the decline for years but in the past two decades, more Latino students like Berrones have been going to college. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many of them to decide between staying in school and working to help their families survive the economic recession caused by Covid-19.
    Historically, college enrollment among White non-Latino students has been higher than any other demographic group in the United States, but Latino students have made big inroads in part because they are the youngest of the nation's largest racial and ethnic groups.
    From 2000 to 2018, the number of Latino students rose to 3.4 million from 1.4 million, marking the highest growth in all race and ethnic groups, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
    Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Latino communities have been hit hard due to their jobs as essential workers and multigenerational living conditions. Latinos, like African Americans, are more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 and are dying at disproportionate rates, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show.
    The pandemic is also threatening the progress that Latinos have made in higher education.
    Most institutions across the country have seen a drop in enrollment in recent months. Undergraduate enrollment plummeted 4.4% compared to last year, according to preliminary results from an analysis by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which collects data from about 97% of all US higher education institutions.
    Undergraduate Latino students were the only racial and ethnic group that grew last fall, but that trend appears to have been reversed. The group saw a 5.4% decline in enrollment this fall after experiencing a 1.4% increase last year, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center said.
    Among the states with at least 5,000 Latino students at undergraduate and graduate levels, enrollment fell at higher percentages in several Midwest states while only California, Texas and Washington appeared to have an increase, preliminary data from the NSCRC show.

    Students are making difficult decisions to help their families

    The pandemic has jeopardized the future of many promising first-generation college students, pushing them to make difficult decisions.
    Israel Demandel, 18, was the robotics team captain and was on track to become this year's valedictorian at Harmony School of Excellence in Laredo, Texas, when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. Weeks later, he was admitted with a full-ride scholarship to Yale University.
    "I knew that being accepted was a really good thing but I didn't know what it would mean because of coronavirus," said Demandel, whose goal is to pursue a career in biomedical engineering.