What the data on Hispanic-Serving Institutions do and don’t tell us

by Deborah Santiago and Janette Martinez

Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) status is predicated on enrollment of Latino students. The data on HSIs are, quite literally, a starting point as they only capture student enrollment. However, these data can encourage higher education into thinking not only about how to enroll Latino students, but how to SERVE them. The data in Excelencia in Education’s new analysis shows continued growth in the numbers of institutions enrolling a high concentration of Latino students — Hispanic-Serving Institutions. However, the data do not show us the impact of the pandemic on student enrollment nor does it tell us if and how institutions are supporting and SERVING their Latino students once enrolled. Many institutional leaders have confirmed the drop in enrollment by Latino students due to the pandemic. Public policy and investment that increases access and accelerates Latino student success is a critical and concrete opportunity for action that will make a positive impact on longstanding systemic inequities.

What are HSIs?

HSIs are defined as accredited, degree-granting public or private nonprofit institutions of higher education with 25% or more total undergraduate Hispanic full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment. For more than 16 years, Excelencia in Education has highlighted the opportunities to support Latino students and where they enroll. A critical group of institutions enrolling and graduating Latino students are HSIs.

What do the data tell us about 2019–20 HSIs?

The number of HSIs increased in the past year, and Latino student undergraduate enrollment remains concentrated at HSIs. This growing set of institutions represents less than a fifth of all higher education institutions but enroll two-thirds of all Latino students. In 2019–20, 569 institutions met the HSI enrollment definition, up from 539 in 2018–19. This brought the percentage of institutions represented up from 17% to 18%.

HSIs are located in most states and locations around the country. In 2019–20, 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all had at least one HSI. In 2018–19, 27 states and locations had an HSI. This year, the three new states with an HSI were Utah, Rhode Island, and North Carolina were the states that had an HSI this year. However, HSIs are overwhelmingly concentrated in California, Texas, Puerto Rico, and New York, where 66% of HSIs are located.

HSIs are most commonly public, two-year institutions, but growth is occurring among private, four-year institutions. Most HSIs are public institutions and the largest group of HSIs are public two-year institutions. In 2018–19, private four-year institutions made up 28% of HSIs, which increased to 30% in 2019–20.

There were 30 new HSIs in 2019–20, a 94% growth over the past decade. The number of HSIs has increased every year since data were first tracked. Since the 2009–2010 academic year, the number of HSIs has almost doubled.

What do the data not tell us?

These data are from Fall 2019, the latest data available and thus do not capture the effects of the pandemic on student enrollment. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, Latinos enrollment increased in Fall 2019 but dropped 5.4% in Fall 2020 compared to the previous year. These enrollment drops could have an impact on the number of HSIs in 2020–21.

The data also do not tell us if and how the institution is SERVING Latino students and supporting them on their path to completion. HSI status is predicated on enrollment of Latino students. Enrollment is a necessary precursor to graduation and over the past decade, as the number of HSIs has increased, so has the number of Latino students enrolled, and the number of Latinos earning degrees. However, these data alone don’t tell us if a student graduated because of or in spite of the institution in which they enrolled. One way to better understand SERVING is through the Seal of Excelencia, a national certification for institutions that strive to go beyond enrollment and intentionally SERVE their Latino students. The Seal framework integrates essential components of transformation into a comprehensive institutional strategy for SERVING student — data, practice, and leadership.

What can policymakers do to support the institutional role in Latino college completion?

Policymakers can support policies that double down on access, given the drop of Latino students, while also investing in the institutional capacity to provide a quality education, given the concentrated enrollment of Latinos. Two ways policymakers can do this are by 1) Providing guaranteed funding to all Hispanic-Serving Institutions who meet the eligibility requirements for Title V grants, 2) investing in the institutional capacity of those that disproportionately enroll and graduate Latino students — HSIs. (For Excelencia’s full institutional capacity recommendations, visit our website.) This requires investment from federal and state policymakers in ensuring that the institutions enrolling two-thirds of our country’s Latino students are able to provide the instruction and support needed to accelerate Latino student success. The data for 2019–20 provide an important checkpoint in Latino student enrollment and growth. We know Latinos’ enrollment in college was increasing before the pandemic. While COVID-19 may have put a pause on students’ education, it cannot mark the end of our collective efforts to ensure America’s future through an educated citizenry, leadership, and workforce that includes Latinos.

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

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