Are you effectively serving as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI)?

Joe Saucedo, PCC Equity Program Manager  and Jonathan Lopez, PCC Communications and Operations Manager | December 9, 2020

The term Hispanic has a complicated history. In fact, there is quite a lot of variance in terms of who identifies with the term depending on your geographic location in the country. In 1973, the federal government created the ethnic category "Hispanic" to refer to individuals with heritage and ancestors originating in Spain or Latin American countries. After years of legislative advocacy in support of increasing college access for underserved students, the Hispanic-serving institution designation was introduced in 1992. Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are nonprofit, degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States that are federally designated as such by enrolling at least 25% Latinx undergraduate students (Garcia et al., 2019). Emerging HSIs, according to Excelencia in Education, are those colleges and universities that have a full-time equivalent Hispanic enrollment between 15-24%. Dr. Gina Ann Garcia from the University of Pittsburgh has dedicated much of her research on HSIs to assessing whether these institutions deliver on the promise to serve Hispanic and Latinx students in ways that their white dominant counterparts do not. Specifically, Dr. Garcia interrogates whether HSIs go beyond just enrolling more Latinx students and also focus on taking action that yields better persistence and graduation rates.

As Illinois' Latinx community continues to grow, more colleges and universities should be prepared to be Hispanic serving and in more than designation - effectively serving and supporting Latinx student persistence and degree completion.

In Dr. Garcia's groundbreaking book, Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges & Universities, it becomes clear that despite the HSI designation, many well-intentioned institutions of higher education promote invisibility for Latinx students when course offerings prioritize a Eurocentric perspective, administrative leaders and faculty are mostly white, or student programming does not account for the rich diversity of Latinx students. Dr. Garcia further argues that colleges and universities with the HSI classification must commit to providing their students with equitable experiences and outcomes.

In regions across the United States, including the Midwest, the Hispanic/Latinx population has seen double-digit growth since 2010, and there is a correlation between that population growth and the emergence of Hispanic-serving institutions. In our state, out of the 28 partner colleges and universities that comprise the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative, 15 are designated as HSIs or emerging HSIs. For some of these partners, their enrollment figures tell one story while retention and persistence rates among Hispanic/Latinx students lag behind non-Hispanic students. Fortunately, ILEA partners are confronting these and other disparities through a number of equity reforms, including the implementation of proven institutional strategies to address specific inequities. But as Dr. Garcia's research points out, more work is needed by HSIs and emerging HSIs in general to effectively serve Latinx students and support their success.

PCC's Communications and Operations Manager Jonathan Lopez graduated from two Chicago-based HSIs, read more about his experience here.

By participating in the ILEA initiative, PCC's partner institutions including those with an established or emerging HSI status, have access to practitioners and scholar researchers such as Dr. Garcia and December webinar presenter, Dr. Marcela Cuellar, of the UC Davis School of Education, who problematize the concept of servingness and offer evidence-based considerations for examining campus racial climate and nonacademic student outcomes. In her essay for the American Council on Education, Dr. Garcia credits HSIs for doing their part to pursue federal grants that would enhance their ability to serve racially diverse students in meaningful ways. However, she acknowledges that there is much more that must be done in order for students enrolled at HSIs to navigate higher education successfully.

Dr. Garcia explicitly lays out several recommendations that are relevant for HSI leaders:

  • Articulate and embrace the HSI identity as an organization
  • Develop and nurture a campus environment that affirms and celebrates Latinx culture and the racial/ethnic background of minoritized students
  • Identify, recognize, and enhance the cultural wealth and vast knowledge that students bring to your institution
  • Provide ongoing anti-racist training and development opportunities for faculty and staff
  • Inventory and transform the structures that affect how Latinx students experience the institution including but not limited to governance, leadership, curricular and co-curricular offerings, decision-making processes, and assessment 

Continue reading
  1149 Hits
1149 Hits

An HSI Graduate’s Story: All Perseverance Amid Inadequate Support

IMG_20181113_10355_20201209-160814_1

Jonathan Lopez, Communications and Operations Manager | December 9, 2020
Jonathan is an alum of two Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). 

Achieving my dream of a college degree took a lot of work and perseverance. As a young undocumented immigrant in 2006, I graduated high school with the expectation that I would not be able to attend college. I was told for two years by my high school counselor that "people like me did not go to college," that it "was too hard or nearly impossible," for an undocumented student. The counselor repeated that message to me so much that by graduation time, I believed it. I spent almost two years not going to college while trying to encourage myself to figure out a way.

After reaching out to many community colleges and universities, some of which actually denied me an admission application, I arrived at a 2-year institution I would ultimately attend. There, a counselor talked to me about Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) being friendlier to undocumented students. I will never forget this counselor because he was welcoming and gave me hope for the first time. Although this college had not been designated an HSI at that point, the counselor painted a picture that emerging HSIs can sometimes be more prepared to enroll Latinx students regardless of their status. At that, I enrolled at the institution and embarked on my college career.

Nothing would prepare me for the nearly 10-year struggle to graduate college. As a freshman, I thought that an institution with so many Latinx students would be better prepared to serve students like me. In theory, they are supposed to be. But this is not the reality that many students experience. I did not experience it. Instead, I attended college with no resources or clear support. After almost 4 years, I'd earned an Associate Degree with honors and began the transfer process to a 4-year institution. My transfer experience was marked by the very apparent inattention that many institutions of higher ed have long been reporting as having toward transfer students. But I was hopeful - the university I transferred to was among the first in Illinois to be given the official designation of HSI. This institution was wonderfully welcoming and accepting of my undocumented status, but even with an HSI designation, there were no targeted resources or supports for me to persist and eventually graduate.

My struggles were mainly financing college at this point. Working three part-time jobs was not enough because paying for the higher tuition costs of a 4-year university out of pocket, with no family or institutional support, was incredibly difficult. My lack of financial resources and the constant "holds" on my student account forced me to stop out of the university twice - having to choose between eating or paying tuition. It took me almost six years to complete the rest of my undergraduate program. During these six years, other colleges and universities received their designation of HSI or emerging HSI, but circumstances did not change for me or for many of my peers. I eventually achieved a Bachelor's degree in 2019 by my own perseverance, two small community scholarships, and with PCC's support. But I graduated never experiencing the support of a policy, a program, or student service aimed at helping me persist and graduate.

Looking back, it would have helped if there had been targeted financial aid for students like me, informed college advising to help maneuver obstacles and support transfer students, and policies and programming aimed at preventing me from stopping out of college. More significantly, it would have helped having more diverse curricula and academic programs.

Today, as a college degree holder and while working at a mission-driven organization involved in higher education reform, I continue to learn of new HSI designations in Illinois. I have also learned of publicly-funded grants that are made available to some institutions that reach the HSI designations. These grants and the continued growth of Latinx student enrollment represent an opportunity for Illinois colleges and universities to implement effective programming and system-wide student support for Latinx students to persist and graduate.

As the Latinx population in the United States continues to grow, more colleges and universities will inevitably be designated HSIs. Will the institutions aim to do more than reach HSI status? Will they welcome the opportunity to better serve their Latinx students?

For students like me, those who are currently enrolled at or on their way to attending an HSI, my hope is that HSIs and emerging HSIs are prepared to serve them in more than name only.

Continue reading
  831 Hits
831 Hits

Sign-up to receive our communications

Connect with us on social media