Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

HSIs Come to Terms with Identity, Mission

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

HSIs Come to Terms with Identity, Mission

Article excerpt

As the nation continues to see a rise in the Hispanic population, higher education institutions are looking to identify ways to better serve the Hispanic student population.

But unlike with historically Black colleges and universities, most Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) were not historically designated as such and do not often state in their missions a commitment to serving Hispanic students. Outside of a mention of Title V grant eligibility--the federal program that funds HSIs--there is little to no acknowledgement of the status by many of the institutions. Most don't even know what it means to be an HSI, making it inherently difficult to serve the students, leaders say.

"None of us asked to be Hispanic-serving institutions; none of us were created to be Hispanic-serving institutions," said Dr. Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent-president of Long Beach City College in California.

"The people who work in Hispanic-serving institutions really don't understand how they became Hispanic serving," said Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon, a professor of higher education and co-director of the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. "They don't understand the immigration practices and who are the Hispanic students that they are serving. The fact is that many Hispanic-serving institutions were once proudly predominantly White institutions."

So the challenge for these institutions is figuring out how to "be intentional, be explicit and be uncompromising" in their commitment to serving students who look different than those who enrolled decades ago, said Oakley.

"We have to be very specific about what that means, and the reality is that we haven't been doing too well," he said. "Even those of us who have been at this for a long time and have been thinking about these issues are having a difficult time closing the gaps in the ways we would like to see them close."

Paramount to this, Bensimon and Oakley agreed, is understanding the backgrounds of the students at the institutions and setting reasonable expectations and benchmarks.

"We are not going to solve this problem continuing to focus on [comparing institutions to] the Ivy League system," said Oakley.

For one thing, many minority-serving institutions serve "more Pell [Grant-eligible] students than the entire Ivy League system combined," he said. …

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