More institutions focused on serving Hispanic students, but funding outlook uncertain

A growing number of colleges and universities are working to enroll and support Latine students, but recent congressional disagreement has thrown into question the federal aid available to minority-serving institutions (MSIs). According to The Hechinger Report, a section of the Higher Education Act that for the last decade has provided $255 million to MSIs annually, including $100 million in grants for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), has expired amid a congressional impasse.

MSI funds lapse amid legislative disagreement

The federal funds in question support programs, scholarships, class materials, and faculty salaries aimed at increasing the number of students at MSIs who pursue STEM degrees. While the funding’s expiration “will be a great loss to all institutions that relied on it, HSIs may be hardest hit,” The Hechinger Report writes.

The number of HSIs, which have full-time Latine enrollment of at least 25 percent, has risen from 141 in 2008, when the federal grants first launched, to 523 today, while the $100 million allocation has stayed the same. “As the nation becomes increasingly diverse and the number of our institutions continues to grow, federal funding for these schools is more important than ever,” Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, said.

In a letter to MSI leaders, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently noted that the grants’ expiration won’t affect funds recently awarded for the coming year—but the outlook for 2020 is uncertain, pending congressional appropriations. Congress will reconvene in mid-October to discuss next steps on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a process that could restore the expired funding. In the meantime, the legislative stalemate “may create uncertainty for college administrators putting together budgets for their STEM programs,” Jonathan Fansmith, director of government and public affairs at the Amerian Council on Education, told Education Dive.

Serving a growing Latine student population

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, meanwhile, recently highlighted colleges’ intensifying focus on enrolling and supporting Latine students amid ongoing population growth. Calling on institutions to “get educated about the Latino community where you are and be informed with data,” Deborah A. Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education, notes that many colleges play a significant role in educating Latine students even if they fall slightly short of the 25 percent Latine enrollment required for HSI status. Santiago recommends that colleges partner with community-based organizations to improve the pipeline to college for Latine students.

Georgia-based Dalton State College, for instance, designated a director of Hispanic-Latine outreach and created a Latine family-engagement program before the institution ever even applied for HSI status. Administrators noticed changing demographics and got “intentional about targeting their Latine populations on campus and in the community as a whole,” says Quincy Jenkins, who serves as the outreach director and says Latine students tend to “valu[e] family decision-making at every level.”

Other considerations include addressing scheduling and transportation barriers for commuter students, as well as providing translated materials for Spanish-speaking families. “Not only do first-generation Hispanic college students need to learn how to navigate the academic space, they also often have to translate that information to their families,” Diverse Issues writes.

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