Celebrate Hispanic Serving Institutions Week by Recommitting to the Institutions and the Students They Serve
By: Erica M. Romero
This year, as we celebrate Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) Week (September 12-18, 2022), we do so with a decline in the number of HSIs for the first time in 20 years. Federally defined as institutions of higher education with 25% or more full-time Latino student enrollment, this year there are ten fewer HSIs than there were last year. While some of that decline is related to campus closures or consolidations, the sad reality is that we witnessed a significant decline in the percentage of Latino students in higher education. According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate Latino student enrollment declined by 5.4 percent in Fall 2021. We also saw a drop in the number of Latino students filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); a program which provides financial support for students seeking to further their education.
As Latino students now make up the second largest ethnic group in higher education (after whites), the nation has an interest in ensuring that its future workers are obtaining degrees in percentages commensurate with their peers. And in a nation where HSIs make up only 18 percent of all institutions, but educate 66 percent of all Latino students, we have an obligation to make sure that these campuses have the resources to provide not only access, but success for the students they enroll.
As we look to increasing the number of Latino students, and HSIs, Latinos for Education has the following recommendations on how to engage both students and campuses.
Recommit to Latino Student Success:
- Change the public narrative around higher education and its value. We know that students who get a bachelor’s degree make on average $1 million more over their lifetime than those with a high school education; they are also less likely to need public assistance or be unemployed. However, that message is no longer the dominant narrative for our communities. It is critical that our communities understand that Latinos need at least a bachelor’s degree to earn what a white male with a high school degree makes. Higher education is invaluable as an earning tool for Latinos, and especially for Latinas who consistently earn less than their male counterparts.
- Double the maximum Pell grant and make it a fully mandatory program. According to the National College Access Network, “At its peak in 1975-76, the maximum Pell award was worth more than three-fourths of the average cost of attendance – tuition, fees, and living expenses – for a four-year public university. Today, it’s worth less than 30%.” Doubling the Pell grant would have a significant impact on college affordability for low- and middle- income Latino students.
- Enact provisions that would make Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients eligible for Pell grants, student loans, TRIO, and GEAR-UP assistance, among other federal student aid.
- Allot $408 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget for GEAR UP to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, minority students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
- Pass regulations or a statutory amendment that allows students who re-enroll in higher education for an advanced degree to count their time in higher education towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness. There is an opportunity cost to going back to college for more education, but these advanced degrees and credentials are needed to pursue public service programs, including teaching, health care, and social work professions. This might also incentivize students to enter the nonprofit sector after graduation.
Recommit to Hispanic Serving Institutions- and hold them accountable for SERVING, not just enrolling Latino students.
- In the Fiscal Year (FY) 23 budget, allocate $247 million for HSIs; and $2.5 million for grants to promote and support collaboration between HSIs and local educational agencies that serve a significant percentage of Latino students for the purpose of improving educational attainment, including increasing high school graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment, transfer, and completion rates among Hispanic or Latino students.
- Increase funding for the Postsecondary Student Success Grants to scale up evidence-based practices and reforms to improve postsecondary retention and completion rates.
- Hold HSIs accountable for ensuring they have a reengagement strategy for students who failed to (re)enroll during the pandemic. Federal and State governments can assist with these strategies by making sure students have access to financial aid as they (re)enroll in institutions of higher education and for providing funding for these strategies.
- Hold HSIs accountable for funding they receive under Title V and other grant programs aimed at serving Latino students. The campus faculty, staff, and students should be aware of how these funds are being used to assist students, and higher education leaders and policymakers must ensure that these funds supplement, and not supplant, other funding sources. Information on successful programs should be part of an easily searchable federal database to share best practices.
These recommendations are practical, achievable, and will have an impact on student and institutional success. HSIs Week provides an opportunity to make these recommendations a reality. As we say at Latinos for Education, when Latinos succeed, America succeeds. Supporting HSIs and the students who attend these schools is a critical piece of the puzzle that helps ensure Latino success and our country’s prosperity.
Erica Romero serves as Vice President of Education Policy and Advocacy at Latinos for Education in Washington, DC. She is responsible for providing thought leadership, policy analysis, policy development, and cultivating key partner relations with decision makers and influencers in the federal education space.
She previously served as Assistant Vice President of State Advocacy at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, as well as Vice President of External Relations at the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. She is a graduate of both UC Berkeley and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.