Hispanic-Serving Colleges Respond to Needs of Growing Latino Population

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on November 6, 2015 at 12:32 pm
Hispanic-Serving Colleges Respond to Needs of Growing Latino Population

With nearly 3 million Latinos in higher education institutions, they are the second largest group of students at the undergraduate level. Yet when it comes to graduating with a four-year Bachelor’s degree, the numbers tell a different story.  According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012, Hispanics made up just 9% of young adults with a bachelor’s degree.

While the reasons for the low graduation rates vary, some schools are stepping up to address the unique needs of Latino students, who, in many cases, are the first generation to attend a higher education institution and may need academic support to overcome specific obstacles to this group, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

Hispanic-Serving Institutions help Latinos attend, graduate from college

Called Hispanic-Serving Institutions or HSIs, colleges or universities designated as such by the Federal government are degree-granting two-year or four-year public or private nonprofit institutions at which 25% or more of the full-time student body enrolled is Hispanic/Latino.

Currently, there are 409 HSIs around the country, at which the majority of Latino undergraduates are enrolled.  The Post-Secondary National Policy Institute found in 2012-2013 that nearly 60% of Latino college students attended a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and HSIs were responsible for graduating 40% of all Latinos in the U.S.

“HSIs are critical institutions for addressing Latino student success in higher education because of their highly concentrated enrollment of Latino college students,” says Emily Calderon-Galdeano, Director of Research at Excelencia in Education. “HSIs tend to be very affordable, are located near large Hispanic communities, and usually have larger numbers of Latino faculty than non-HSIs.”

With the cost of a four-year college education at a state school averaging $9,000 a year and $31,000 a year at a private school, attending college is cost prohibitive for many. But for Hispanic students, who often come from low-income households, the costs can shut them out altogether. Hispanic-Serving Institutions can help in that area, thanks to the grants and scholarships they offer.

Growing need for Hispanic-Serving Colleges and Universities

According to Terry Babbitt, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at the University of New Mexico, Congress appropriated $12 million in grants to HSIs under the Higher Education Act in 1995. Since then, federal funding has increased sharply. In 2010, $117.4 million was appropriated to HSIs, says Babbitt.  “These grants are used for the development and improvement of academic programs, endowment funds, academic tutoring, counseling programs, student support services and more,” says Babbitt. “The continual increase in government funding demonstrates a growing dedication to the advancement of higher education for Hispanic students.”

The role HSIs play is only expected to increase given the need for people from every ethnicity to have access to a college education. Consider this: according to Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, by 2020, 65% of all jobs in the economy will require a college degree. That will lead to a decline in less-skilled jobs and create an increasingly difficult situation for people without a college education.

Perks beyond grants and scholarships

While the allure of generous scholarships and grants is a principal driver for high enrollment rates at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, it’s not the only perk students who attend one will get. Because these schools are tasked with providing an education for Latinos, the faculty and staff often come from the same background and can relate more easily to the experience of Hispanic students.

At many of the HSI schools, speaking Spanish isn’t shunned upon, and the language is often used on and off campus. A lot of the cultural programs are also centered on the Latino community, as are the school’s outreach and community service. Not to mention that most HSIs are located in areas where there is a large Hispanic population, such as California, Texas and New Mexico. That’s particularly important to facilitate the transition to college life for many Hispanic students who are able to attend a school close to home.

What’s more, Babbitt of the University of New Mexico says these schools have lower tuition on average than non-HSI schools of similar caliber. At Arizona Western College, for example, the cost to attend for the 2015-2016 school year is $9,605 including tuition, room and board, and books and supplies. Meanwhile, Arizona State, a non-HSI school, charges $10,478 for the 2015-2016 school year.

Students have to ask the questions

With the number of Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the hundreds and only expected to increase, choosing the right one can be a daunting task. Not every HSI is created equal, so it’s up to the student to ask questions before determining if a school is a good fit.

Calderon-Galdeano says some of the things students should inquire about include: programs in place to help them get through college and graduate, financial aid opportunities available, and parent/family orientation programs available to help provide information about what is expected to succeed in college.

“There is much diversity within HSIs, so there is something for everyone. There are community colleges, smaller private schools, larger state universities, schools with religious affiliations, etc.,” says Calderon-Galdeano. “Ultimately, it is about ‘fit’ and finding the school that best fits the needs of the student.”


Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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