The number of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) — colleges and universities where at least 25 percent of students are Hispanic — is growing rapidly, according to Antonio R. Flores, PhD, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). This growth is mirrored by rising Latino enrollment; a recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that college enrollment for this group is up 13 percent from 1993.
Constituting just 12.9 percent of nonprofit colleges and universities but enrolling 60.8 percent of all Hispanic students in the U.S., HSIs play an important role in educating this population.
Above: Antonio R. Flores (center), president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, at the California State University, San Bernardino’s STEM Summit. (photo courtesy of Robert A. Whitehead/CSUSB)
While it’s encouraging that the percentage of Hispanic students enrolling in higher education is increasing, only 15 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree or higher as opposed to 41 percent of white Americans, 63 percent of Asian Americans, and 22 percent of African Americans. If these numbers are to rise for the Latino population, Hispanic-Serving Institutions are going to have to work even harder at supporting these students.
Gina A. Garcia, an assistant professor in the Department of Administrative and Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, thinks there are three main ways HSIs should be working toward this end. The first, she says, is by creating environments that are supportive, which she believes is key to retention and graduation.
In an article titled “Culturally Relevant Practices that ‘Serve’ Students at a Hispanic Serving Institution,” published in Innovative Higher Education, Garcia and co-author Otgonjargal Okhidoi conclude that “embedding culturally relevant curricula and programs into the structure” of educational institutions is imperative. “While HSIs were not founded to serve Latino students,” they write, “institutions must face the realities of the changing demographics of today’s college students while finding ways to better support populations that have been systematically oppressed and historically discriminated against in postsecondary education.”
Garcia and Okhidoi’s case study of a university, which they refer to by the pseudonym Naranja State University (NSU), revealed certain strategies that they feel could be helpful to other HSIs. In their article, Garcia and Okhidoi write that making ethnic studies courses part of the general requirements for graduation and institutionalizing ethnic studies as an individual department work well. They also urge universities to commit to incorporating culturally relevant curricula across campus, not just in ethnic studies departments.
Also of great importance is funding. According to Garcia, educational institutions should provide financial support for individual students. Without this component, she says it doesn’t matter how culturally responsive a school is; many students will have trouble staying through graduation. She also believes the federal government needs to better fund HSIs.
If HSIs meet federal standards, they qualify to apply for Title V and Title III Part A funds, but there’s no guarantee that any given school will receive the money for which they are all competing. In addition, federal funding has not kept up with the increasing number of HSIs, says Flores. HACU advocates for more federal and state support for these institutions and highlights promising practices of HSIs who have received funding.
The dollars that HSIs receive from the federal government, however, don’t go directly to the students who helped them earn that designation. They are earmarked for capacity building, according to Garcia, and thus help HSIs serve all their students. But even with these additional monies, HSIs receive only 69 cents per dollar of federal funds distributed to all other colleges and universities each year, according to HACU. This gap, Flores says, needs to be closed.
And finally, Garcia reports that HSIs need to be providing their students with an education that looks beyond graduation to internships and jobs — another area where Flores says HACU can help. The organization has a national internship program that has placed almost 12,000 students with potential employers, learning real-world skills. He says that about half of HACU interns end up working for the same companies and organizations they interned with after graduation.
So how well are HSIs doing in these three areas? And will they be able to keep up as more HSIs emerge and as Latino student populations grow? “There’s more work to be done,” says Garcia, “but I think a lot of institutions are actively trying.”
Flores agrees, adding that the overwhelming majority, if not every one, of HACU’s member HSIs is doing great work with limited resources.
However, in order for HSIs to continue improving, they’re going to need guidance. One of HACU’s priorities is helping these institutions support their students better. Emerging HSIs — those that have not reached the 25 percent mark, but seem likely to — are able to join HACU as associate members to gain access to the organization’s resources before they officially become HSIs. HACU also offers programs to help them learn from each other.
One program that Flores thinks was a particular success selected exemplary HSIs in three sectors — community colleges, private institutions, and public universities — to serve as mentors to peer HSIs. HACU also provides leadership and career development programs for mid-level employees at member schools, in addition to annual conferences, and it fosters partnerships with corporate and foundation partners.
Flores believes that the creation of HSIs has played a large role in increasing the percentage of Hispanic students who enroll in college, and he thinks they’ll continue to do so as the number of college-age Latinos rises. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that Hispanics will constitute three quarters of labor force growth between 2010 and 2020 — a reality that Flores says necessitates better support of HSIs so they can in turn better prepare their students to join the workforce.
“The clear implication is that the very future of the country depends on how well we educate the very fast-growing, emerging generations of Hispanics,” says Flores. “And for that, HSIs are the primary conduit.”●
Alice Pettway is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. HACU is a partner of INSIGHT Into Diversity.