What Are Hispanic Serving Institutions?

by Doug Wintemute

Updated April 14, 2021 • 3 min read


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Hispanic Serving Institutions aim to educate — and graduate — Hispanic students.

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) must enroll student bodies of at least 25% Hispanic full-time and part-time learners to qualify for federal funding and other benefits. From 1994-2017, the number of HSIs grew from 189 to 523, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

Enrollment numbers have increased significantly as well, adding more than 1.5 million students in 1994-2019 — an increase of 329%. In this guide, we examine the role of HSIs in the nation's college system, what HSI status means, and the benefits that HSI status provides schools and students.

HSIs and College Students: What Are the Benefits?

According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), HSI designation provides schools with access to additional funding, leading to stronger programs, services, and facilities. In turn, Hispanic Serving Institutions strive for improved enrollment and attainment numbers among Hispanic students. As of 2018, nearly 66% of Hispanic students attended HSIs, with graduation rates among full-time students far exceeding federal rates.

HSIs provide targeted resources for Hispanic learners, including wellness services, financial support, programs, and communications. They also offer more diversity and inclusiveness for Hispanic learners and teachers, which can lead to a more empowering environment and campus engagement.

Schools apply for HSI status for various reasons, but eligibility for Title V program funding provides plenty of incentive. This program offers awards for new equipment, facilities, faculty, and services. In 2019, ED provided $124,415,000 in total funding to Hispanic Serving Institutions through one-year planning grants, five-year development grants, and five-year cooperative development grants.

More than half of HSI students were non-Hispanic in 2017. These schools attract non-Hispanic students by offering strong academic programs, quality resources, and funding opportunities for those with financial need. The diverse student body and faculty provide valuable and globally representative experiences and teaching for all enrollees.

What Is the History of Hispanic Serving Institutions?

In the early 1980s, the government began to observe that Hispanic students needed greater access to higher education. Similarly, schools that enrolled Hispanic students needed additional support to retain them and help them succeed.

In 1986, HACU formed and helped convince Congress that institutions serving large numbers of Hispanic students should receive an official designation and government support. By 1995, the Strengthening Institutions Program delivered the first appropriations for HSIs. From 1995-2020, funding has increased from $12 million to more than $143 million.

In 1998, HSIs were given their own funding program designation under Title V of the Higher Education Act. Ten years later, the program was expanded to include a focus on promoting postgraduate programs. ED introduced a separate program in 2010 to promote and support STEM education at HSIs.

Why Does the Federal Government Recognize HSIs?

The federal government recognizes HSIs because of the need to shrink the race gap in higher education. As a result of a lack of access and financial disparity, Hispanic students enroll and graduate less frequently than the average non-Hispanic student. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 22% of Hispanic 18-24-year-olds enrolled in higher education in 2000, compared to the national average of 35%.

With the help of HSI designation, schools saw positive trends among these underrepresented students. By 2018, 36% of Hispanic youths attended college, compared to the 41% national average. NCES data indicates that four-year graduation rates also grew, rising from 23% for cohorts starting in 1996 to 32% for 2010 cohorts.

Why Do Schools Pursue HSI Status?

Schools pursue HSI status for different reasons, but the specialized funding is what motivates these schools to develop programs and facilities to better serve Hispanic and minority student populations. While the HSI designation comes with many benefits, just the pursuit of HSI status can lead to positive outcomes for students.

HSI status requires enhanced recruitment efforts, more inclusive programming and services, and better resources that help both on- and off-campus communities. Regardless of if they receive HSI status, improved outreach and minority support can improve any institution.

HSI status also provides access to Title V grants and can boost enrollment among Hispanic students and learners looking for a diverse campus experience. These schools may also see improvements in faculty and program offerings, as more educators seek to both provide and experience an intercultural education.

What Qualifies a School for HSI Status?

To receive any official federal status, colleges and universities need regional accreditation. For HSI designation, 25% of the institution's total enrollment among both full-time and part-time students must be Hispanic-identifying.

Once they receive HSI designation, schools can apply for Title III and Title V funding only if 50% of the student body receives need-based financial assistance. According to NCES data, 82% of Hispanic undergraduate students received financial aid in 2015-2016.

While the government does not officially recognize schools in pursuit of HSI status, Excelencia in Education tracks emerging HSIs that may qualify for designation in the near future. These institutions have 15-24% Hispanic enrollment.

What Is the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities?

Established in 1896, HACU unites and represents higher education institutions that enroll the largest populations of Hispanic students. Growing from a group of 18 member institutions to more than 500 in 2021, HACU represents more than 66% of the Hispanic student body across the country.

The association made major strides in pushing the government to officially recognize HSIs. This recognition has contributed to greater representation for the Hispanic community in higher education, improved enrollment numbers among Hispanic students, and better graduation rates among full-time private and public students.

HACU also conducts research and creates strategic alliances to improve its advocacy efforts and impact on the educational system, government policies, member schools, and the wider communities. The association also offers access to leadership, STEM, and sustainability programs, along with networking events and scholarship opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Hispanic Serving Institutions Are There?

According to HACU, there were 539 federally designated HSIs as of 2019. Of those, 231 are two-year public schools, 140 are four-year public schools, 16 are two-year private schools, and 152 are four-year private schools.

What Qualifies as a Minority-Serving Institution?

Minority-Serving Institutions provide education to large populations of students from minority groups. They comprise Historically Black Colleges and Universities, HSIs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Asian American and Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions.

What Does It Mean To Be a Hispanic Serving Institution?

A Hispanic Serving Institution features a total enrollment with at least 25% Hispanic students. These schools receive access to specialized federal funding programs.

What Is a HACU Institution?

A HACU institution is both an HSI and a member of HACU. The association represents 314 HSI members.

Header Image Credit: aldomurillo | Getty Images

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