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Hispanic-Serving Colleges and Universities

The History of HSIs, HSIs and Latino Educational Attainment, Conclusion

Hispanics constitute the fastest-growing minority population in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics represented 12.5 percent of the national population of 281 million in 2000. This is also a fairly young population: 36 percent of Hispanics are under eighteen years of age, and only 5 percent are age sixty-five or older. Moreover, only slightly more than half of all Hispanics are high school graduates, and thus are employed more in service and unskilled occupations than are non-Hispanic whites. In light of these statistics, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) have become important colleges and universities for increasing Hispanics' access to college and improving their economic opportunities.

HSIs are still largely unknown and little understood by most educators and policymakers in the United States. Although HSIs represent almost 6 percent of all postsecondary institutions, they enroll approximately half of all Hispanic students in college, granting more associate and baccalaureate degrees to Hispanic students than all other American colleges or universities combined. Despite these impressive outcomes, a federal definition for HSIs exists only in the Higher Education Act of 1965, under Title V, as amended in 1992 and 1998. The 1998 legislation defines HSIs as accredited, degree-granting, public or private, nonprofit colleges and universities with 25 percent or more total undergraduate, full-time equivalent, Hispanic student enrollment. HSIs with this enrollment must also meet an additional criterion to qualify for Title V funds, which stipulates that no less than 50 percent of its Hispanic students must be low-income individuals.

The recruitment and retention of Hispanics to college has been the subject of long-standing concern among educators, policymakers, and practitioners. Although still largely unknown, HSIs attract and retain Hispanics in larger numbers than all other postsecondary institutions. Specifically, HSIs educate over 1.4 million students in the United States, of which 50 percent are Hispanic and another 20 percent are students from other ethnic backgrounds. In fact, HSIs might also be called minorityserving institutions, in light of the high percentage of diverse student populations they routinely educate.

The History of HSIs

The vast majority of HSIs were not created to serve a specific population, as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges were, but rather evolved, starting around 1970, due to their geographic proximity to Hispanic populations and to demographic shifts. With the exceptions of Hostos Community College and the four-year institutions of Boricua College and National Hispanic University, HSIs do not have charters or missions that address distinctive purposes and goals for Latinos. On the other hand, HBCUs, which were begun as early as the nineteenth century, and tribal colleges, which were founded after 1970, intentionally serve their target student populations in accordance with their declared mission statements. However, the incredibly rapid growth of Hispanic-serving colleges and universities since the 1970s has conferred on them an ad hoc mission to serve the Hispanic population, and they are recognized as such by Congress and the Higher Education Act.

The designation of HSIs, and the development of a national awareness of HSIs, is essentially due to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), which was founded in 1986. The concept of linking all colleges and universities serving high proportions of Hispanics into an association to gain national recognition and resources was the work of a group of prominent Hispanic educators. Working relationships with corporations, foundations, and federal government agencies were formed to increase funding and services to these institutions. These resources led to providing greater professional growth and development opportunities for Hispanic students, faculty, and administrators. In forming the HACU, a national office in San Antonio, Texas, and another in Washington, D.C., were established to parlay the organization into a national player in the educational, political, and policymaking arenas. As an advocate, HACU focuses on educating policy-makers and national leaders about Hispanic educational needs and the resulting economic and political implications for a more democratic and just society.

The rise of HSIs has been rather rapid since these institutions were first recognized nationally. Their rapid growth stems primarily from three significant factors. First, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and college outreach efforts opened up educational opportunities to less traditional college-going populations, including Hispanics and others from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. This movement was accompanied by the development of federal and state financial aid that made it possible for more students to go to college. Second, Hispanic immigration to the United States has increased, especially in large urban areas and along the southwest border of the nation. Third, Hispanics are continuing to move into communities where other Hispanics already are established and that are geographically near higher education institutions. Migration patterns, however, also indicate that Hispanics are moving into regions of the country where they have not been before as they seek jobs and more affordable housing.

As a result of these factors, there were 195 HSIs in 2000 and 203 in 2001, according to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Of these, 156 are located in 12 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Washington) and 47 in Puerto Rico–geographic areas where large concentrations of Hispanics reside. California, with 57, has the most HSIs, followed by Puerto Rico with 47, and Texas with 32. In addition, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Washington each have one HSI. In terms of type and control, there are 96 four-year HSIs, of which 44 are public and 52 are private. Among the 107 two-year HSIs, 94 are public and 13 are private. Thus, the majority of HSIs are community colleges, and these institutions will most likely continue to increase their Hispanic student enrollments. It is not surprising that California has the highest number of HSIs in the nation. Nearly one out of every three residents of California is Hispanic and the state has a vast system of 108 community colleges, the largest in the United States. On the other hand, Florida's representation of only nine HSIs belies the fact that it is home to the largest community college in the nation: Miami-Dade Community College. This institution consists of five separate campuses, with a total combined enrollment of more than 50,000, and two-thirds of its students are Hispanic.

HSIs and Latino Educational Attainment

Hispanic-serving institutions continue to demonstrate remarkable progress in assisting Hispanics to achieve academic and career success by stimulating higher college-attendance rates and higher degree-attainment rates. For example, the national college-attendance rate of Hispanics was 36 percent in 1997, up nearly 8 percent since 1990. However, this relatively low rate continues to be of national concern to educators and policymakers. Nonetheless, comparative U.S. data for college degrees awarded to Hispanics in HSIs and non-HSIs are remarkable. In 1997 Hispanics earned approximately 46 percent of all associate degrees awarded in HSIs, compared to7.6 in non-HSIs. They received 23 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded in HSIs, compared to 5.3 percent in non-HSIs; 19.5 percent of all master's degrees, compared to 3.7 percent in non-HSIs; 4.4 percent of all first professional degrees, compared to 4.6 in non-HSIs; and 6.1 percent of all doctorates, compared to 3.7 in non-HSIs. These data offer evidence that HSIs are directly responsible for increasing the educational attainment of Hispanics.

Data suggest that HSIs may also be credited as producers of the highest number of Hispanics who go on to pursue advanced degrees. Two-year HSIs lead the way in producing the highest number of Hispanic transfer students and associate degree recipients. Research studies further reveal that four-year HSIs with high Hispanic baccalaureate graduation rates point directly back to community college HSIs as the source of a significant number of their transfer students. These studies also show that four-year HSIs are the highest producers of professional and graduate Hispanic students.

Although the term Hispanic-serving institutions was recognized by the Higher Education Act in 1992, HSIs are not listed as a distinct institutional type in the latest Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, as are tribal colleges. Also, the federal definition of an HSI is the only one used formally, vis-à-vis Title V and by applicants for funds. The HACU promotes a less stringent definition. HACU members must only have a total of 25 percent Hispanic enrollment, and associate members need only a minimum of 1,000 students. Their publication, The Voice, their Internet site, and their annual conference all highlight members' activities and HACU's advocacy role in continuing to influence national policy and garnering corporate support. Yet as recently as March 2001, articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education still referred to HSIs as "socalled Hispanic-Serving Institutions" (Yachnin, p. A34), indicating that not everyone accepts this distinct designation thus far.

It is important, however, to consider not only what it is that these newcomers to the higher education lexicon are, but how they are successfully educating students in their institutions. Moreover, it is important to consider what lessons can be learned from them that may be applicable to diverse students in other collegiate environments. Public understanding about HSIs can undoubtedly affect their future in terms of educational policy decisions and funding allocations. Despite their large student enrollments and seemingly low resources, HSIs appear to buffer Hispanic students' socialization into college through culturally sensitive programs that facilitate student academic achievement and completion for these and other minority students. Outreach efforts into the local K–12 schools and surrounding communities where Hispanics reside also are part of the holistic approach many HSIs are taking to raising Hispanic educational attainment rates.


It is clear that HSIs will continue to increase in number nationally from within the identified 3,856 American public and private, two-and four-year institutions of higher education. They will continue to be important in the twenty-first century in educating Hispanics and other minorities, whose numbers will continue to rise (according to U.S. census projections). These institutions' unofficial, undeclared dual role will continue to be: to help increase Hispanic college participation and completion rates for this population; and to help narrow the educational and economic gaps for Hispanics. It may well be, as Lisa Wolf-Wendel notes in her 2000 study, that "differences in race, ethnicity, social class, and other experiences influence what students need from their campuses and how campuses should respond. While separate examinations of each institution's characteristics are illuminating, it is important to understand that their whole is greater than the sum of their parts …. Instead, it is the combination ofcharacteristics–their ethos–that makes them unique, able to facilitate their students' success" (p.342).


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