February 12

How to Market to First-Generation Hispanic Students


There is an incredible opportunity coming for higher ed marketers to serve a burgeoning audience of first-generation Hispanic students. 

There is little we can do about the numerous factors making up the looming enrollment cliff

Continuing effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, falling birth rates, the rising tide of vocational school alternatives, and the growing cost of higher education—all of these are beyond our control.

But there are some bright spots on the horizon that we need to explore and harness when possible. 

One silver lining I see in the dark clouds ahead is the growing Hispanic population. 

There is a large market of first-generation Hispanic students who need help in their educational journey as they chase their preferred future. 

You and I can be a part of helping them get to their future. 

To do that, we as higher ed marketers will have to diversify our marketing strategies to reach this demographic effectively.

The Demographic Shift

The demographic landscape of North America is undergoing a significant transformation, one that colleges and universities cannot afford to ignore. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in the United States has seen remarkable growth, representing 18.5% of the total population in 2020, up from 16.3% in 2010. 

This trend is projected to continue, with the Pew Research Center indicating that Hispanics will make up an even larger share of the U.S. population in the coming decades. 

With the Hispanic community being one of the fastest-growing segments of our target audience, there’s a clear signal here: our marketing strategies must evolve to address the needs, aspirations, and cultural nuances of first-generation Hispanic students.

If you’re not Hispanic, it’s tempting to overlook these stats.

However, the significance of this demographic shift is massive, especially in the context of the looming enrollment cliff that threatens many higher education institutions. 

Traditional college-age populations are declining in many areas, making it imperative for colleges and universities to tap into new, growing demographic groups to sustain, if not grow, enrollment numbers. 

First-generation Hispanic students represent a particularly important segment in this equation. 

They frequently are the first members of their families to think about higher education, and targeted, culturally competent marketing initiatives can have a significant impact on their decisions regarding whether and where to attend college. 

By not actively engaging with this demographic, institutions risk missing out on a critical opportunity to connect with a substantial and increasingly influential portion of the prospective student pool.

My friend, it’s clear that we as education marketers need to get serious about tailoring our strategies to meet the unique needs of the Hispanic population. 

The Language of Engagement

One of the most obvious parts of engaging with first-generation Hispanic students is the use of Spanish in your marketing materials.

In general, producing marketing materials in Spanish serves a twofold purpose. 

For one, it acknowledges the reality that many of these students’ parents are immigrants with Spanish as their first language. 

By providing materials in Spanish, colleges and universities can effectively communicate with parents, ensuring they are informed and engaged in their child’s educational journey. 

Something I’ve observed in my engagement in multicultural marketing is that for first-generation Hispanic students, parental engagement is critical, even to a higher degree than white or black prospective students. 

This approach not only facilitates better understanding and comfort among parents but also demonstrates an institution’s commitment to inclusivity and respect for cultural diversity.

Secondly, incorporating Spanish in marketing materials speaks volumes to the first-generation Hispanic students themselves. 

It’s not necessarily about their language preference—many are bilingual and can navigate materials in English just as effectively. 

Instead, the use of Spanish acts as a powerful identity marker, signaling recognition and pride in their Hispanic heritage. 

This subtle yet impactful acknowledgment can greatly influence a student’s perception of a college or university, making them feel seen and valued. 

To be as practical as possible, I recommend that any marketing message to Hispanic immigrant parents be communicated using a mix of 90% Spanish and 10% English. 

When engaging with first-generation Hispanic students, go with a 60% Spanish to 40% English mix. 

Once you get to the second-generation Hispanic student, you’ll want to drop that down even more to 30% Spanish to 70% English ratio. 

Of course, these are simply general guidelines to get you started. 

You’ll need to test your materials in focus groups and use metric reports such as A/B split testing to find the right linguistic mix for your marketing materials.  

In essence, the strategic use of Spanish in marketing materials transcends language barriers; it’s about fostering a sense of belonging and community

This means going beyond simple translations of existing materials into Spanish; it requires a deep dive into understanding the cultural, economic, and social factors that influence the educational aspirations and decisions of first-generation Hispanic students. 

Beyond Translation: The Need for Contextualization

Marketing to first-generation Hispanic students goes well beyond translating your current marketing materials into Spanish.

This approach misses the nuanced layers of cultural, historical, and economic contexts that shape the experiences and aspirations of these students and their families. 

It’s essential to craft messages that resonate on a deeper level, acknowledging the unique challenges and triumphs that define the first-generation Hispanic experience. 

This means going beyond language, to embed cultural cues and references that speak directly to this audience’s identity and values.

For instance, successful customized marketing materials might include storytelling elements that reflect the Hispanic community’s rich traditions, family dynamics, and educational values. 

Consider profiles of successful Hispanic alumni that highlight pathways to success, or informational materials that address common concerns about financial aid and support services in a culturally sensitive manner. 

These tailored approaches signal to prospective students and their families that your institution not only understands their specific needs and aspirations but is also equipped to support their journey towards higher education success. 

I recommend seeking out current Hispanic students and consulting with them on their experience and unique perspective.

Ultimately, it’s about creating a connection that feels personal and relevant, demonstrating that your college or university is not just an educational choice, but a community where Hispanic heritage is celebrated and supported.

Our Opportunity to Serve First-Generation Students

While there are a lot of seemingly insurmountable challenges out there for higher ed marketers, there are also great opportunities for us in the future, and reaching out to first-generation Hispanic students is just one of them.

In this post, we’ve delved into effective strategies for marketing to first-generation Hispanic students, emphasizing the significance of understanding and addressing their unique cultural, historical, and economic contexts. 

But if you’re seeking to enhance your institution’s appeal to first-generation Hispanic students, I invite you to reach out for further insights and tailored strategies to effectively engage with and cultivate this important student population. 

Let’s work together to create welcoming, inclusive marketing approaches that resonate deeply with Hispanic students and their families!

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