Family Influences On Higher Education- Latina Style

Claudia A. Claudio

     Professor Robert De Anda

Latinos and Education ChLa 450U

Winter Term 2017

            Portland State University


In the recent decades in the United States there has been a dramatic growth in the Latino population. In all, the Latino population is the largest and fastest growing ethnic subgroup in the United States, growing at a rate of about 4.5 times the rate of the rest of the population between 1990 and 2000 (DeGarmo.S.D.,Eddy.M.J.,Martinez.R.C.,2004). Latinas in specific remain underrepresented in terms of college enrollment, retention and 4-year degree completion. Despite the rate of overall enrollment for college, the rate for Latinas who graduate from high school is similar to the enrollment rate of their non-Latina counterparts. Latinas have been found to be less likely to enroll in 4-year colleges immediately after graduating from high school and are less likely to earn college degrees (Romero.Sy.R.S, 2008). Among Latina students, the important role their parents play in the development of educational aspirations is important given the current educational statistics that are reflective of lower levels of higher education participation among Latinas. With the less likelihood of Latinas successfully navigating an educational pathway, it is important to understand the influences family have in Latinas aspirations for a higher education. How the family influences Latinas’ aspirations for a higher education is essential because the influences from family help further support many Latina students’ college pathways.

  Family Influences

Influences from family on Latinas’ aspirations for a higher education have been found to have a major impact on their college decisions. The term Familism, a cultural value emphasizing family closeness and loyalty, has been identified as a value that characterizes many Latino populations (Romero., Sy.R. S,2008). Contrary to the values of individuality and independence emphasized in American culture. Familism requires an individual family member to put the needs of the family first, even if this means making personal sacrifices (Romero., Sy.R. S,2008). The emphasis of these personal sacrifices is further reinforced for many daughters of Latino families. Previous research has found that although Latino parents greatly value education for their children, parents who also view their daughters as family-oriented caretakers during the time of transitioning to college may put additional pressure on continuing to fulfill family obligations such as caretaking, language translation and spending time with family (Sy.R. S, 2006). The association of time and stress of fulfilling family obligations can make the transition to college more challenging for Latinas.

As Latina students begin the college choice process, they often rely on guidance and assistance. Latino parents specifically play a key role in this process, in developing and supporting their children’s aspirations for a higher education. Previous research describes three interrelated dimensions of familism: attitudinal, which include “values and beliefs that prioritize the family”; behavioral, which include decisions conditioned by “attachment to family ties”, and structural, which include the propensity to “live in larger and denser kinship networks than whites” (Ovink.M. S, 2013). With the three dimensions described by Ovink, the influence of family on Latinas’ aspirations for a higher education can be more closely tied to previous findings, that present consistent evidence that family support is very important for Latinas college decision making. Breaking down the three dimensions (attitudinal, behavioral and structural) into the subtopics of direct and indirect messages received from parents, will be the next step in discovering how family influences the aspirations of a higher education among Latinas.

Direct and Indirect Messages

Ceja (2001) study on Latinas college aspirations and the role of parents, suggests that parents who are able to transmit (direct) messages about the importance of doing well in school along with the benefits of going to college often base those messages on personal experiences although they may have not attended college themselves. Using qualitative interviews, Ceja explored the college-choice process within the context of home and school experiences of 20 Latina high school seniors in the Los Angeles area. Ceja (2001) study found that given the lack of educational background from parents, “what parents say and do to influence the educational pathway of their children is not form from their educational success or established set of networks but rather their economic, social and occupational struggles” (Ceja.M.,2001., p.346). This has led to Latina students finding strength in their lived experiences and everyday realities. Furthermore, Ceja (2001) defines what allows Latinas to succeed is a sense of resiliency that is gained from their parents ongoing support which further strengthen them to redefine the educational opportunities that are available to them as they aspire to receive a higher education. For a majority of parents, their personal lived experiences became stories of encouragement and motivation. A statement from a participant in Ceja (2001) study mentions how her mother would tell her “Keep on going, don’t give up. You don’t want to end up working for minimum wage” (Ceja.M.,2001., p.347). The mothers direct message using her lived experience of working for minimum wage is then used to empower her daughter to continue working hard towards obtaining a higher education in order for her to further advance her own economic status. This direct message given from mother to daughter further supports that Latinas aspirations for a higher education often come from their parents using their current occupational status as a source of motivation, which is in relation with the values and beliefs of familism attitudinal. Along with direct messages given from parents, indirect messages were also received by Latinas that involves influences from family.

Indirect messages of empowerment and motivation for a higher education from Latino parents were also found to be transmitted by parents and emulated by Latina students. Martinezs (2013) qualitative study examined the role that familism played in 20 Latina/o (specifically of Mexican descent) high school seniors’ college choices, using semi-structured interviews conducted in South Texas. Self-interpretation was found to be highly related to the influences family had on Latinas aspirations for a higher education. During his research Martinez found that some students consider attending a local university because it would be cheaper, which would lessen the financial burden on the family influencing Latinas decision by being mutually beneficial, financially for them and their family (Martinez.A.M.,2013). The financial aspect that is influenced by family showed to have a major impact on Latinas college making decisions. During this research a student stated,” At first I wanted to transfer, to go to (University of Central Texas) like right after high school but then I knew my mom would have financial problems because she doesn’t have much income and I recently quit my job just to focus more this year on school” (Martinez.A.M.,2013., p.32). In this participant’s case, Martinez explains how the financial status of the family influenced this students desire to attend a local university, because there is a sense of financial obligation to the family that shapes the student aspirations of a higher education. Also, by still choosing to attend a local college and follow their aspirations of a higher education, Latinas presented a common theme of having a desire to succeed in school in order to improve their economic and social opportunities that are relatable to those experienced by their parents (Martinez,2013). This Latina student decision to attend a local university was found to be impacted by the mother’s financial constraints. Although, an indirect message received from the mother does not directly state that it is because of the financial constraints that the student cannot attend a university outside of the local area. The decision made by the student further reinforces the familism dimension of behavior that is influenced by decisions surrounded by attachment to family ties. In relation to indirect and direct messages received by Latinas towards their aspirations for a higher education, it is also important to touch on the influence family have once Latina students are in college and are in the stages of earning a degree which involve integrating and separating their family and school aspirations.

The Integrators and Separators

For many Latina students integrating and separating their families into their college aspirations can be a challenge, given the cultural value of familism which emphasizes loyalty, reciprocity and solidarity (Espinoza.R.,2010). Integrators communicate with and explain to family the expectations that are expected from them in the two worlds of school and family while separators apply behaviors that keep them divide and separate. One theory and identifying term is the importance of noting when to distinguish integrator and separator influences. Biculturalism theory: a bicultural person is competent in two cultures, engages in typical behaviors of both cultures and feels a sense of belonging to both cultural communities. Mestiza identity is developed to manage two cultures that are always in direct conflict with one another and has come to mean living with ambivalence while balancing opposing powers (Espinoza.R.,2013., p.321).

Espinozas (2010) study documents strategies of biculturalism and mestiza identity by interviewing 15 Latina doctoral graduate students in balancing family relationships with the demands of school to maintain their status of a “good daughter” who attended universities in Northern California and were in their second year of full-time graduate studies. Espinoza (2010) found that Latinas balanced the demands of school and family in two ways: integrating and separating. For integrators, Latina student managed family obligations and expectations by communicating with their family the responsibilities they have within school. Explaining to their families the nature of their school demands, then enlisting their family’s support to enhance their academic success was the main way Latinas used to integrate family members (Espinoza.R.,2010). The study describes how one participant integrates her family with her aspirations of a higher education by using key details that she knew her parents needed to be aware of and understand as she continues to pursue a higher education. In this case, the student explains, “When my mom called and asked if I would be coming home for Thanksgiving, I had to tell her that I couldn’t come home because I had school work to do. She was very disappointed, I had to explain to her that I needed the extra time to work on my paper. I also explained that if I didn’t finish my paper by the end of the term I would not get my MA degree until May” (Espinoza.R.,2010., p.324). This demonstrates her dedication to family values.

Providing her parents with an explanation of the workload required by her classes, the student was able to establish strong communication skills with her family and help them understand her educational world. Latina integrators in this study explained school demands to their families not only to better negotiate family expectations but also to enlist their families support in their school achievements (Espinoza.R.,2010). This practice of strong communication with family went on to demonstrate the influences of family in Latinas aspirations for a higher education because as noted by Espinoza (2010) by explaining to their parents the importance of providing school work over family expectations was going to benefit the entire family. Latinas who used this strategy were noted to be highly bicultural in their ability to integrate family and school, along with the mestiza identity by negotiating cultural contradictions by using new knowledge from their everyday experiences to transform and fuse their social identities (Espinoza.R.,2010., p.325).

However, along with integrating family there is also separating that occurs within Latinas aspirations for a higher education which can also be a challenge. Choosing to balance family relationships with college demands for some Latinas meant keeping these two social worlds separate from one another. Espinoza (2010) gives an example of one participant who made this choice and managed to balance both family and school expectations and obligations well by keeping both separate. The reason noted by this Latina student decision is because she felt they clashed as she explains.

“Maybe you can think of graduate school in terms of a culture clash, where you’ve got this American individualism where you’re supposed to care about yourself and do what you can to move yourself forward in school but then I’ve also got this family obligation, I mean it’s a good thing because we support each other but I feel this pull between doing what most Americans do and at the same time dealing with something that’s been instilled in me always, family comes first and they’re very important (Espinoza.R.,2010.p.325).”

This example of the challenges faced by Latinas further shows how family has an influence on the aspirations for a higher education. Going deeper into the story of this particular Latina student, she then follows with another example. She mentions how her mother called her one evening while she was taking a midterm and ask if she could help her younger siblings with their homework, and she helped them. By putting her midterm aside to help her younger siblings with their homework, this Latina student illustrates how she keeps family separate from school along with tying in the values of familism with her aspirations for a higher education (Espinoza.R.,2010). This example of separating school and family demonstrates how familism structural dimension is a natural tendency having a strong influence on the student. The natural tendency for Latina students to care for their family can further be explained as a way Latinas are influenced to aspire for a higher education given lived experiences.

Taking caring of Family  

For many Latina students caring for their family is an important role they take on and is the point why they go to college. Ovink (2013) conducted a study of in-depth interviews with 15 Latino/a high school seniors at three (San Francisco) East Bay Area schools which explored the topics of life histories, school experiences, family support systems and economic resources. In all, 136 interviews ranging from 30 minutes to two hours were recorded. Specifically touching on the topic of family support being important because that is what drives many Latinas to strive for a higher education after all. Ovink (2013) explains that Latina respondents agreed that supporting their family was important and that attaining a college would further this goal. Comments from Latina students noted that a college degree would enable them to “provide my family with things I didn’t get” (Ovink.M.S.,2013., p.273), virtually highlighting the necessity of having not just a job but a career. In many family situations the only way to obtain a career is by receiving a higher education. During the study Ovink (2013) further reinforces how familism shaped student’s recognition that college was a new resource their generation could access to lift family fortunes. Ovink (2013) discusses that traditionally many Latino families have expected women to care for siblings and aging parents, and with a twist to these traditional concepts, Latina students mentioned feeling pressure from their parents to succeed both educationally and financially. Latina students discussed their parents’ struggles in supporting the family without having received a college education. The pressure felt by Latinas gives greater understanding of the influence family has on the aspirations for a higher education. Ovink (2013) findings suggest that Latina students in many cases are encouraged toward long-term educational attainment with pressure from family, as the outcome of obtaining a career instead of just a job, can help take care of the family along with honoring the family. Overcoming the pressure from family influences can be a challenge for many Latinas. However, it has been shown that overcoming these challenges can be successfully accomplished.

Success Stories  

The influences that many families have on their Latina college students have been found to serve as motivational factors. The study conducted by Zalaquett (2005) analyzed the stories of 12 Latina/o (ten were female) first-generation students enrolled in a large urban universities and were a part of a Latino scholarship program. Qualitative analysis serves as evidence to barriers and support factors toward the aspirations for a higher education within Latinas. Zalaquett (2005) first discusses three barriers: Minimal adult supervision, which include “Parents who had no experience with higher education and could not help determine what information was needed and several of the parents did not speak English or had a limited vocabulary, which made helping their children very challenging.” Misinformation, which include, “poorly informed or misinformed about postsecondary application processes and opportunities, ranging from not knowing how to complete their college application to not knowing the cost of postsecondary education and the availability of financial aid” and poorly informed choices, which include “the combination of minimal adult supervision and poor information often causes Latina students to make poor choices about postsecondary education, choices that might hinder their chances to achieve a higher education” (Zalaquett.P.C.,2005.,p.38,39). Defining these three barriers is important on how Latinas turn around and use these barriers to further their aspirations for a higher education. Zalaquett (2005) discusses eight support factors however, to support my point  i will highlight the first three. The family, which include “strong family support help students succeed in high school and pursue a college education along with poverty and low levels of education strongly influence the nature and levels of parent support in school achievement” and friendship, which include “perceived interpersonal relationships with friends as being important to the process of getting a college education” and finally sense of accomplishment, which include “students being proud of their achievements in education and believing that their academic success will have a positive impact in the way others perceive them” (Zalaquett.P.C.,2005.,p.40,41). By providing the barriers and support factors Zalaquett (2005) reinforces the influences of family on Latinas aspirations towards higher education which can help further navigate Latina students towards a successful academic career.


Research has shown that family has a major influence on Latinas aspirations for a higher education. The ability to balance school and family among Latina students proves to be a motivational push towards obtaining a higher education. Furthermore, it can have a beneficial outcome and long term effects for both Latina students and their families which in turn can help build stronger: economic, social and occupational life experiences. The influences on aspirations for a higher education and academic success among Latina students is critical because these students can help close the gap on deficient higher education among their Latino families. Breaking down the barriers and challenges faced by Latina students in both their school and family worlds is key in assisting with closing the deficiency in the higher educational gap. There is no doubt that family influences Latinas’ aspirations of a higher education and are empowering, inspirational and encouraging.



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Charles R. Martinez, Jr., David S. DeGarmo, J. Mark Eddy. (2004). Promoting Academic Success Among Latino Youths. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences.Vol 26, Issue 2, pp. 128 – 151

Melissa A. Martinez (2013). (Re)considering the Role Familismo Plays in Latina/o High School Students’ College Choices. High School Journal,97(1), 21-40

Miguel Ceja.(2004). Chicana College Aspirations and the Role of Parents: Developing Educational Resiliency. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education .Vol 3, Issue 4. 338 – 362

Roberta Espinoza. (2010).The Good Daughter Dilemma: Latinas Managing Family and School Demands. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education .Vol 9, Issue 4, 317 – 330

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