Hispanic-Serving Institutions central to post-COVID equity goals

A new data set indicates that the number of federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) has grown 94 percent in the last decade, reinforcing HSIs’ central role in helping Latinx communities rebound from enrollment declines linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of 2019-20—25 years after the federal government first began recognizing and targeting federal appropriations to college campuses with significant Latinx enrollment—there were 569 HSIs and 362 “emerging” HSIs. While HSIs made up just 17 percent of the nation’s nonprofit colleges and universities, they enrolled 67 percent of the nation’s Latinx college students.

Growing educational, economic opportunities

Now, higher education leaders are pointing to HSIs as key players in the effort to increase opportunity for Latinx families hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. colleges saw Latinx student enrollment drop by 5 percent in fall 2020, eating away at a decade of gains. “In one year, we saw a precipitous drop, scaling back some of the enrollment progress,” Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education, said at a late-April briefing.

Related: Pandemic may impede Latinx students’ college pursuits, experts warn >

“When we’re talking about recovery as a country, we need to acknowledge HSIs and the important work that they do to promote equity and access for all students,” added Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

The federal government also needs to increase investment in the institutions, to ensure HSIs can fulfill their potential to address persistent college completion gaps, advocates say. According to Excelencia, around 22 percent of Latinx adults hold an associate degree or higher, compared with 39 percent of the general population.

Focusing on student success

Writing in Ed Surge, Mordecai I. Brownlee, vice president of student success at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas, urges HSIs to “fully embrace the responsibility of being Hispanic-serving—not merely Hispanic-dwelling—institutions.”

Brownlee, whose public community college is both an HSI and a historically Black institution, outlines several essential commitments. Specifically, he calls on HSIs to take a strategic, intentional approach to inclusive excellence; launch well-resourced student success efforts; and push for more equitable earnings for Latinx graduates.

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