By Kevin Singer, Matthew J. Mayhew, Alyssa N. Rockenbach, Laura S. Dahl
Michael Resendez is a rising senior at the University of Houston majoring in finance. “The University has a 32 percent Latinx student population overall, but this isn’t true of college of business,” he remarks.
“It’s daunting to go into business,” Michael continues. “You see a lot of investment banks and accounting firms pushing for diversity, but you don’t really see yourself there. When you think of business, you think of Mark Zuckerburg, Jeff Bezos, you know, insert a White person’s name. Then you think about, what does my dad do? What do people in my community do? There’s discomfort [seeking a business degree] in the Latinx community because of a lack of familiarity,” he explains.
What Michael is describing can be confirmed by findings from our study: Business schools aren’t successfully drawing Latinx college students after they’ve started college.
In partnership with the Interfaith Youth Core, North Carolina State, and Ohio State University, our study, IDEALS, followed students from over 120 colleges and universities through four years of college (2015–2019). As part of our focus on how students navigate richly diverse college environments, we asked students at the beginning of their first year of college, and again at the end of their fourth year, about their planned academic major.
We discovered that of the roughly 50 percent of Latinx students that changed their major during college, none of them changed their major to business. Furthermore, of the 16 percent of Latinx students who entered college undecided about their major, only one student went on to choose a major in business.
Latinx students, and especially those who are first in their families to go to college (i.e. first generation), may not feel that majoring in business is a viable option for them. Michael Resendez admitted he was fortunate to be a third-generation college student preceded by his father and grandfather, as well as an aunt who works as an accountant. Their experience familiarized him with the different majors he could pursue before he stepped foot on campus.
First-generation Latinx students, Michael explained, are more likely to remain undecided for as long as they can, or funnel into majors that are more common among their peers like those in the liberal arts or education. Making the jump into business is a risk they may not be comfortable taking, especially if no one in their family can relate to their interests or provide support. Our study confirms that of the Latinx students who entered college undecided, the majority (61
percent) eventually chose to enter the social sciences and education, while the majority of those who changed majors (53 percent) moved to social science, education, or the humanities.
Michael insists that colleges and universities have work to do. “It should be normalized for Latinx students to be introduced to all the majors and schools available to them. It shouldn’t take three generations to see that there are opportunities in college to learn about money management and lucrative career opportunities that would service Latinx students and their communities,” he said.
Exposing Latinx students to opportunities to study business is just one part of the equation. An important question remains: Will business schools be welcoming places for them?
One glaring issue that business schools must address is the lack of Latinx representation in their full-time faculty. As of 2016, only 2.6 percent of full-time faculty at America’s business schools were Hispanic, while 75 percent were white. This percentage isn’t growing; from 2013 to 2017, the number of Hispanic tenured faculty only rose by two-thirds of a percent. In June, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria issued an apology for the lack of minority representation in their faculty.
“Ultimately, proliferating diversity among faculty is another way to generate more diverse student populations, who eventually lead organizations. Exposure to these different backgrounds of teachers opens up the minds of all students,” writes Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and CEO of Qs, an online resource hub for aspiring business students.
However, even if a business school is perceived to be welcoming, Latinx students may feel more comfortable in other majors where they feel their accomplishments are merit-based, rather than lauded because of their minority status. “I absolutely sympathize with any Latino who treads a fine line between wanting their accomplishments to be 100 percent merit-based with no association as a diversity candidate versus wanting to be proud of their identity and community,” writes Harvard Business School student Karla Mendez. She encourages Latinx students entering business schools to embrace their Latinx identity and understand how it makes them unique in the workforce. She notes that Latinx business school groups are helpful in this regard.
Michael Resendez is part of the Hispanic Business Student Association at the University of Houston, a student organization providing Latinx students with community support and resources to excel in business school and beyond. “Cultivating a familia within a university, a safe space to succeed, ask questions, learn how to do college together, and learn how to network is critical,” Michael explained. “I’ve seen DACA and first-generation Latinx students in our group pass the CPA, get full-time job offers, and gain acceptance into Masters programs.” What is most exciting for Michael, however, is seeing these students come back and reconnect with the group in order to help others succeed.
Still, Michael foresees new hurdles for Latinx students. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a slew of business internship offers being rescinded, on top of hiring freezes and massive job losses in the business sector. “The Latinx community is risk averse; they tend to pursue what is safe and what they know will support themselves and their families,” Michael explained, which he believes could make Latinx students apprehensive about pursuing a business major in the short-term. Furthermore, Michael believes that students are less convinced they need a degree in business to reach their goals. “In order to accomplish great feats in business, you don’t have to be a business major, and I think a lot of people are learning that,” he said.
Latinx college students are growing at a rapid pace, reaching a record high in 2017, according to Pew Research. Soon, it is estimated that one-fifth of college students will be Latinx, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Business schools should consider if they are prepared to serve this growing population, and if there are clear pathways available to Latinx
students who entered college undecided on their major, or Latinx students desiring to change their major to business.
Michael sees a bright future for Latinx students in business schools. “Once you educate Latinx students and make them feel comfortable in business school spaces, you’re going to see their attraction toward those spaces increase too. These students come from hard-working families. They are going to be successful and have a long-spanning career.”
Kevin Singer (@kevinsinger0) is a PhD student in higher education at North Carolina State University and a research associate for IDEALS.
Dr. Matthew J. Mayhew (@MattJMayhewPhD) is the William Ray and Marie Adamson Flesher professor of educational administration at Ohio State University and co-principal investigator of IDEALS.
Dr. Alyssa N. Rockenbach is the alumni distinguished graduate professor of higher education at North Carolina State University and co-principal investigator of IDEALS.
Dr. Laura S. Dahl is an assistant professor of education at North Dakota State University.