Minority-Serving Institutions are ‘engines’ of income mobility, study finds

Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) help students climb the economic ladder at a higher rate than non-MSIs, according to a new study from the American Council on Education. For the report, researchers analyzed newly released data from the Equality of Opportunity Project to assess students’ income mobility.

The researchers found that Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), defined as those where at least 25 percent of full-time equivalent undergraduates are Hispanic, take students from the bottom income quintile to the top quintile at a rate that’s three times higher than that achieved by non-MSIs. Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) had double the mobility rate of non-MSIs. Furthermore, MSIs achieve this with “low educational and general expenditures.”

However, it can be difficult to shift narratives surrounding MSIs, Education Dive says, noting that “much of the public discourse about these institutions has been around seemingly lower outcomes.” Interpreting student success solely based on graduation rates is insufficient, according to Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

“It’s not just did students graduate; it’s did students achieve their goals?,” Eaton told Education Dive. She added that, for many students, especially low-income students, the goal is to escape poverty, an aspiration helped by institutions that enable economic mobility.

To Eaton’s point, both HSIs and HBCUs disproportionately serve students who are low-income and first-generation, according to the study. While around eight percent of students at non-MSIs identify as low-income, one in four and nearly one in five students at PBIs/HBCUs and HSIs, respectively, fall into the lowest income quintile. In addition, the report states that between 45 and 53 percent of students enrolled at PBIs/HBCUs and HSIs self-identified as first-generation college students.

Saying their findings verify that MSIs “are standouts in the field for their contribution to income mobility… even while they are operating with limited resources,” the authors call for “increased investment in institutions that are meeting students where they are, and making good on the value of higher education for individuals, families, and communities.”

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