Do recent proposals for institutional grant programs support Latino student success?

by Deborah Santiago and Janette Martinez

Latinos have been hard hit by the economic and health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the road to recovery requires equitable access and completion in higher education for Latinos .Throughout this election year, policy proposals around improving higher education to better serve students emerged. As the nation and a new Congress considers how to best support Latinos and their postsecondary success, it’s important to take a closer look at the data and ensure that policy proposals address issues of educational equity.

Excelencia in Education’s analyzed five proposals to determine if they would support Latino student success:1) free tuition, 2) debt forgiveness, 3) doubling the Pell Grant, 4) creating a new institutional grant program, and 5) creating new workforce training programs. In part two of this two part series, we look at the latter two proposals and their potential impact Latino student success. For more information about Excelencia in Education’s policy work, visit edexcelencia.org/policy.

Proposal Details: Establish a new grant program to support under-resourced institutions that serve large numbers of Pell-eligible students to foster collaboration between colleges and community-based organizations to provide wraparound support services for students, including additional financial aid to cover textbook, transportation, and child care costs and mental health services, faculty mentoring, tutoring, and peer support groups

Would a new institutional grant program for under-resourced institutions support Latino student success?
Possibly, depending on how the grants would be distributed. If it is set up as a non-competitive grant program to under-resourced institutions, then many Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) could benefit from this funding; however, if it is created as a competitive grant program, it could duplicative of what is being done in currently existing programs like the Developing HSIs program (Title V of the Higher Education Act).

Would a new non-competitive institutional grant support Latino student success? If the new grant is a non-competitive grant, modeled after Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it could support Latino student success. Title I of the ESEA funds local education agencies and provides grants to those eligible based on their enrollment of low-income students. In a higher education context, under-resourced institutions enrolling large numbers of Pell students would be designated eligible to receive a minimum grant amount for the non-competitive grant program. Through this criteria, many HSIs would qualify. Currently, two-thirds of Latino students enroll at an HSI, and providing additional funding to the institutions where they enroll can help them build their capacity to SERVE Latino students.

Would a competitive institutional grant support Latino student success? If the new grant is a competitive grant, it could be duplicative of the Developing HSIs (Title V) program, a competitive institutional capacity building program that is more overtly tied to a concentrated enrollment of Latino students. Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act are both intended to support under-resourced institutions with a high enrollment of Pell-eligible students. The Title V program was created with the intent of building the institutional capacity of HSIs, which are defined as institutions with at least 25% full-time equivalent Latino student undergraduate enrollment. Instead of creating a new grant program for institutions, there is an opportunity to refine and strengthen the Title V program.

Title V has 16 allowable activities, and Excelencia’s analysis of Title V funding found that the majority of Title V grants were invested under just two broad categories: student success and faculty development. Instead of creating a new competitive grant program, the Title V program could be strengthened to help meet this proposal’s goal of supporting Latino student success in three ways:

1. A robust infusion of funding would be needed into Title V in order for it to meet students’ needs. While the number of HSIs has grown by 93% over the last decade, federal funding has remained almost stagnant.

2. The allowable activities for Title V grants can be constrained to better align capacity building to student success. Currently, out of the 16 allowable activities for Title V grants, less than half have a direct focus on student success. The ideas in the Biden campaign’s proposal, such as providing faculty mentoring and tutoring, would be allowed under Title V.

3. The Secretary of Education could set a priority to fund activities that fund Latino student degree completion and includes the wraparound services included in the proposal.

Proposal: Investment in workforce preparation

Proposal Details: Make a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community-college business partnerships and apprenticeships

Would this workforce preparation program support Latino student success?
Yes, this program could support Latino student success and overall economic mobility if it is set up with clear equitable outcomes as the goal. We know that Latinos are more likely to be in entry level positions, regardless of the type of credentials they have earned. While a high-demand industry-recognized credential is a strong start, students must be able to stack it on top of other credentials and continue their learning as workforce demands change. Each credential earned can lead to another job, a raise, a promotion, and possibly over time a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges are a strong place to start, as almost half of Latino students are enrolled in a community college. Furthermore, targeting HSIs specifically would reach even more Latino students.

What type of support do institutions need to build their workforce development practices?
Excelencia has worked with Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to learn about their current workforce preparation efforts and how they seek to adapt to a new environment. Through our case studies of four HSIs, we found five strategies to serve Latino students and prepare them for the workforce.

Many institutions, including those enrolling high numbers of Latino students, are already doing the work to connect their students to the workforce. Programs that can help support their efforts and expand these best practices can better impact Latino student success.

For more information about Excelencia in Education’s policy work, visit edexcelencia.org/policy.

Excelencia informs, leads, & accelerates Latino student success in higher education through research, evidence-based practices, and leadership.