Chanting the Data: An Evidence-Based Approach to Graduate Student Success


David A. Ortiz

One might argue that there exists an embarrassment of riches in the research regarding student persistence in higher education, especially for traditionally aged undergraduates. One might also argue that there is an emerging body of knowledge on student success for Latino/a undergraduate students. However, when it comes to our knowledge and understanding about the experiences of Latino/a master’s level graduate students, I’d suggest that we know very little about this student population. I dare you to tell me otherwise. In fact, I double-dog dare you.

Recent data analysis by The Pew Hispanic Center has shown a greater number of Latino/a students are enrolling in higher education institutions across the country. While access to and research on undergraduate education is increasing, there remains an untapped body of knowledge on Latinos/as in graduate school. Moreover, as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Emerging HSIs grow in total numbers, their potential impact on graduate student success must be understood. In other words, what high-impact programs and services promote the educational pathway to graduation for Hispanics at HSIs?

According to a report by Excelencia in Education, the total number of HSIs with graduate programs increased by 91 institutions from 1994 to 2013, representing an increase of 190%. Moreover, nearly 90% of HSI graduate programs can be found in six locations: Puerto Rico, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Mexico.

Recognizing the growth of Latinos/as attending graduate school at HSIs, The Department of Education’s Hispanic Serving Institution Division launched a new funding competition as part of the Title V grant funds in 2009, and subsequently in 2010 through 2014, to identify and fund innovative ideas that promote Latino/a graduate student success at HSIs. The Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans (PPOHA) Program provided grants to: (1) expand postbaccalaureate educational opportunities for, and improve the academic attainment of, Hispanic students; and (2) expand the postbaccalaureate academic offerings as well as enhance the program quality in the institutions of higher education that are educating the majority of Hispanic college students and helping large numbers of Hispanic and low-income students complete postsecondary degrees. Between 2009 and 2014, approximately $19M per fiscal year—$114M in total—was appropriated for PPOHA.

On the surface, these numbers are certainly impressive. However, a cautionary tale must be noted: the funding pattern for PPOHA remains inconsistent. Whereas other Title V competitions have a regular five-year rotation with dedicated funds, PPOHA has neither. Interim Director of the Department of Education’s HSI Division, Ralph Hines, has already stated in public that a 2015 PPOHA competition is unlikely. So what does all of this mean? For me, it proves that we must be fastidious in collecting data to demonstrate the success of PPOHA grants and other similar best practices for graduate student success. However, if you try to mine the literature for studies on Latinos/as in graduate school (specifically master’s students), you can expect your plate to come up mostly empty. This needs to change.

For emerging scholars seeking to etch out a research agenda that is untapped and open to possibilities, or for the seasoned scholar interested in augmenting the knowledge base of Latino/a student success, a focus on Hispanics in graduate school is ripe for the picking. With the launch of Excelencia in Education’s HSI Center for Policy and Practice in October 2014 as well as the existence of other national organizations such as the Association of HSI Educators (AHSIE), the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ (HACU) recent Deans’ Forum on Graduate Education, and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), there are multiple resources scholars can draw upon to carry out this research.

I once heard Dr. Frances K. Stage, one of my former professors at Indiana University, state that we needed to “chant the names of the ancestors” before making our own personal claims and recommendations about problems and solutions in higher education. This anthropological reference suggests that we must rely on solid research from the past to guide our understanding of best practices in the present. In a time when research on Latino/a students in graduate school is limited, be advised that the names we chant in the future…may be yours!

Dr. David A. Ortiz is the Founding Director of the University of the Incarnate Word’s Graduate Support Center and Assistant Professor of Research and Graduate Studies. The Graduate Support Center is the recipient of the Excelencia in Education’s 2014 Example of Excelencia in the Graduate Education category.

Leaving Penn: A Reflection


Thai-Huy Nguyen

On May 16th, 2015, I ended my graduate education by walking alongside my friends and colleagues in the field of education as our degrees were conferred upon us. The day started off with immense excitement and nervousness, in part because it meant that I was leaving my home—the University of Pennsylvania and the Center for MSIs—of five years.

What did these five years consist of? What was it like to be a graduate student at Penn’s Graduate School of Education?

The learning curve was quite steep for me. Coming straight out of the workforce, I was not immediately attuned to the level and amount of reading and writing required of me. My first year took a great deal of persistence and sacrifice in light of the many social distractions that accompany graduate education in beautiful Philadelphia. What became readily helpful was the ongoing support of my advisor and fellow colleagues in the program and across the university. Time spent with them gave way to fruitful conversations that blossomed into enduring friendships and opportunities for collaboration—both of which were necessary to help me begin my path into the academy.

Penn is quite unique in its approach to graduate education in that it actively encourages its schools and departments to work closely with students to develop interdisciplinary plans of study—believing that cross-discipline learning will bring about greater knowledge to tackle today’s most pressing social and economic issues. I embraced this path throughout my five years by exposing myself to research and scholars inside and outside—nursing, history and sociology—of my field. Studying and working in these disciplines and fields strengthened my research and modes of inquiry and gave me a better understanding of why my work in higher education matters.

The most exhilarating aspect of this path was the unnerving nature of its structure: there was none. I had to dig deep, commit to different ways of thinking and theorizing, and avail myself of research topics in which I had little experience. For instance, in the past three years, I worked closely with Margo Brooks Carthon, a professor of nursing science at Penn. Through her grant with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I became her project manager on a national survey of diversity pipeline programs in nursing baccalaureate programs. This opportunity gave way to a wonderful cross-disciplinary collaboration in which we used our collective interests and expertise to address the shortage of nursing students of color and shed light on the practices that encourage their success in nursing education programs. Despite feeling lost at the start, the choice to pursue an individualized path became quite liberating with every new project and course, and I began to make sense of the vast knowledge I had amassed over the years.

In my last year at Penn, I became a research assistant for the Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI), conducting research to improve our nation’s understanding of MSIs. I was fortunate to contribute to CMSI’s achievements through empirical research, policy reports and grant writing, which in turn gave me the preparation I needed to transition to my new role as a faculty member. Although I worked with all sorts of faculty and students across the university, it was important—in light of all the changes in my last year—that I had a home at the CMSI. Of my time and experiences at Penn, I will miss the CMSI the most.

Aside from my formal training, I am leaving with a community of friends that I trust and can depend on—an indication that my graduate education at Penn has been a journey that I will fondly look back upon and smile with deep gratitude and inspiration.

Thai-Huy Nguyen is an assistant professor of student development administration at Seattle University. Prior to his appointment, he served as a research assistant for the Center for MSIs at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Ensuring Non-Traditional Black Student Success at HBCUs: A Researcher’s Reflection

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Ramon B. Goings

At the beginning stages of my dissertation research study, which explores the academic and social experiences of high-achieving Black male HBCU students, I thought I would find individuals who had a traditional trajectory to college. More specifically, I was prepared to hear my participants discuss their transition from high school directly to their collegiate institution. However, I have quickly learned that the Black men in my study have not had the traditional route to college. In fact, many of the men arrived at their respective HBCU from community college or from the workforce after establishing their families and careers.

For instance, one of my participants, Rahim (pseudonym), received his undergraduate degree at the age of 61 while continuing his successful career owning a construction company. Rahim acknowledged that earning his college degree was not necessary to ensure his future success in the workforce; however, he understood that earning his degree would provide him the opportunity to pass along his wisdom and knowledge to students as a high school and/or college instructor. Interestingly, Rahim’s story and others in my study are not uncommon—the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) data on postsecondary enrollment trends shows that from 2001-2011, the enrollment of non-traditional students (ages 25 and older) increased by 35%. While a growing body of research has emerged analyzing the experiences of Black students on HBCU campuses, there is a need for more studies that explore the experiences of non-traditional Black undergraduate students attending HBCUs.

In Robert Palmer’s October 13, 2014 blog post for MSIs Unplugged titled,  “Charting a New Agenda: Being More Intentional about Examining the Experiences of Black Students at HBCUs,” he challenges researchers to focus on different facets of the Black student experience at HBCU institutions. Furthermore, he provides valuable topics for researchers to explore, including examining the challenges students encounter at HBCUs. His insights are valuable as they push researchers to further develop our knowledge of the experiences of Black students have at HBCUs.

Along with Palmer’s suggestions for new research topics, I believe there are many unexplored questions regarding non-traditional HBCU students in particular that should also be explored, such as:

  1. How do non-traditional HBCU students balance their home, work and school responsibilities while working towards their college degree?
  2. What challenges do non-traditional HBCU students face and overcome during their college tenure?
  3. How do non-traditional HBCU students establish and navigate relationships with faculty and peers on campus?

As the cost of college tuition continues to rise, we will continue to see an increase in non-traditional students nationwide. Some students may elect to attend community college to save money prior to enrolling in a four-year institution while other students may choose to enter the workforce to earn money to pay for college. Furthermore, as stories continue to surface regarding decreases in enrollment at HBCUs, it is important for HBCU administrators and policymakers to capitalize on this opportunity to target non-traditional students in an intentional manner to potentially increase their overall student enrollment. Moreover, knowing more about the non-traditional student population will be critical to support student recruitment efforts as well as the development of programs on campus to support non-traditional students.

Ramon B. Goings is a doctoral candidate at Morgan State University.

Diversity and Social Justice at Historically Black Law Schools


Elisa Chen

Historically Black Law Schools (HBLSs) make up a small minority of this nation’s 200+ law schools. In fact, there are only six HBLSs accredited by the American Bar Association. They are:

Yet, despite the small number of HBLSs, these law schools play a vital role in educating students and bettering our nation’s jurisprudence. They all share unique histories of and missions dedicated to helping underserved students. After all, HBLSs were originally established because black students were excluded from white law schools under the separate-but-equal doctrine. For example, Thurgood Marshall School of Law was specifically created by Texas in response to Sweatt v. Painter, the lawsuit which later set the precedent for Brown v. Board of Education. Today, Thurgood Marshall School of Law remains dedicated to supporting underserved students in the legal profession, viewing itself as an agent of community change that empowers the disenfranchised by preparing lawyers to practice law and shape public policy.

In addition to Thurgood Marshall School of Law, the aforementioned HBLSs are also considered some of the most diverse law schools in the nation. In fact, Florida A&M University Law School has been recognized as the most diverse law school in the United States. HBLSs are also known for inspiring social change. For instance, Southern University Law Center’s mission is “to provide access and opportunity to a diverse group of students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups to obtain a high quality legal education… [and] to train a cadre of lawyers equipped with the skills necessary for the practice of law and for positions of leadership in society.”

The University of District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law is another example, as the University is committed to using law for public interest to help those in need. The University of District of Columbia has the largest clinical requirement of any American law school, requiring students to provide more than 700 hours of pro bono legal service, which students often fulfill by helping D.C. residents through direct hands-on work. In recognition of this feat, the U.S. News & World Report ranked the University as number seven in clinical training among all American law schools in 2014.

It is no surprise, then, that HBLSs have been extremely active in recent cases of police brutality involving African Americans. For instance, immediately following the grand juries’ decisions not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Howard University Law students wrote an open letter urging for social change. Howard University School of Law also chose to aptly celebrate Constitution Day by establishing events centered on “insuring domestic tranquility,” as it relates to “criminal justice” and the “militarization of the police.” Elsewhere, North Carolina Central University law school students gathered in a rally, holding up their hands in support of Brown. Also in attendance was North Carolina Central University law professor and state NAACP Attorney Irving Joyner, who called for greater voter participation and involvement in community outreach programs in honor of Brown’s memory.

Thus, although small in number, HBLSs are extremely important because of their focus on diversity and social justice, something that all law schools in the nation and worldwide can learn from.

Elisa Chen completed her M.S.Ed. in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and was a research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. She is now a Research Analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Latinos, MSIs, and Financial Aid: Paper Rock Scissors


Kristan Venegas


I recently wrote a paper called “Financial aid in Hispanic Serving Institutions: Aligning resources with HSI commitments” to be published in an upcoming New Directions in Higher Education volume edited by Melissa Freeman and Magdalena Martinez. The main research question for the paper was: What does the research tell us about how HSIs organize themselves to support financial aid for Latino students? To answer this question, I reviewed as much literature as I could find on this topic. Most of what I found was sourced through Excelencia in Education (thanks to Deb Santiago and crew!) and described particularly effective programs and services. What were my findings? “HSIs are no further behind, or ahead, than other institutions in terms of the financial aid needs of their student population.” Waa Waa. That’s not a very groundbreaking finding.


During the 2013-14 academic year, I was selected to serve as an American Council on Education Fellow. Rather than focus on making “strategic leadership connections” at a similar institution, I chose to complete my fellowship at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which is categorically different than my home institution. I appreciate the support from the Rossier School of Education on this decision. I’ve blogged more about the fellowship experience overall at the Pullias Center for Higher Education’s blog: 21st Century Scholar.

As part of the fellowship year, I attended the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education conference. At the conference, I interacted with diversity officers from all over the country. Many of them had responsibility for the MSI-related efforts on their campuses. Meeting these leaders provided another opportunity for me to be a major financial aid nerd and pose the following question: What do MSIs/HSIs actually do to organize themselves to support financial aid for Latino students? If the response to my paper is “Waa Waa,” I would categorize the responses to this question as “Wth??”

I intuited that type of response because when I would ask questions about financial aid partnerships, there would be a pause and moment of consideration. I learned that, really, I was hearing more about basic interactions to get required data to complete MSI applications. It seemed like many of the diversity-related leaders that I spoke to did not have deliberate relationships with financial aid officers. They were not collaborative partners; they were little more than data pals.


So now, I want to use my (left-handed) scissors to cut the paper and escape the dulling of the rock. I offer these three recommendations:

  1. Much of what I read about, wrote about, and saw over the last year was that MSIs are offering their services and resources to students in ways that are not systematic or sustainable models to make change for the full campus community. Add-on programs or programs that serve only 100 out of 1000 will not make the kinds of institutional change that MSIs likely need.
  2. There are opportunities to bring more direct aid to students in MSIs. Santiago’s issue brief notes that 102 of the 370 campuses in her study found ways to implement this type of aid. I’m sure there are models that all campuses might be able to follow.
  3. Financial aid officers need to be more included as resources for creative and federally compliant financial aid options in MSIs.

I’m working on efforts to develop fundable, study-able, and implementable ways to move some of these ideas forward. I’ll keep you posted.

Dr. Kristan Venegas is an Associate Professor of Clinical Education and a Research Associate in the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. 

Supporting Undocumented Students at Minority Serving Institutions


Fernando Coello


Elisa Chen

Because of their immigration status, many undocumented students in the U.S. face multiple legal and economic obstacles when attempting to obtain a postsecondary education. Federal statutes enacted in 1996 establish that higher education benefits cannot be offered to undocumented students based solely on residency in a state and that undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial assistance. The exorbitant costs of postsecondary education, combined with the unavailability of financial aid, effectively prevent many undocumented students from attaining higher levels of education. Each year, only 5 to 10% of undocumented high school graduates pursue a postsecondary education. This rate is much lower than ​that ​of all high school graduates​ ​in the U.S.​, ​who have consistently enrolled in rates higher than 65% since 2010.

To rectify this, the bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2001 and in the U.S. House in 2006 to create an opportunity for some undocumented students to attend college or enlist in the military, while also providing them with a path toward legal citizenship. However, since its introduction, the DREAM Act has not passed at the federal level because of political disagreements. While federal statutes do not explicitly prohibit individual states from admitting or enrolling undocumented students, they allow states to decide which students pay in-state tuition and receive state financial aid. A few states, like Alabama and South Carolina, have passed statutes that completely prohibit the mere attendance of undocumented students at state institutions. Other states, fearing repercussions such as discontinued federal funding, continue to charge out-of-state tuition to their undocumented students. Nonetheless, 19 states have incorporated policies, similar to the federal DREAM Act, that allow undocumented students who have attended and graduated from state high schools to pay in-state tuition and/or be eligible for state financial aid.

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) have an established history of uplifting low-income, first-generation students of color, accounting for only 7% of all U.S. colleges and universities, yet enrolling over 26% of all students in the nation. They have represented a significant opportunity for these individuals and communities to improve economic, social, and political capacity. However, while many undocumented students fall into these categories of students historically supported by MSIs, the forms of government and institutional support available to them at these institutions have been widely understudied. Some important questions for administrators, educators, and policymakers in higher education include but are not limited to:

  • How have MSIs transitioned after the introduction of state legislations affecting undocumented students?
  • Have MSIs disproportionately attracted, enrolled, and/or retained undocumented students compared to predominantly white institutions (PWIs)?
  • What are MSIs’ cultures around undocumented student access and success? How are MSIs different from PWIs regarding undocumented students’ campus experiences? Alternatively, what can PWIs learn from MSIs in this regard?
  • What kind of additional external support do MSIs require to successfully meet their commitment to increasing undocumented students’ educational attainment?

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions is currently working on a report focusing on the state of Illinois that sheds light on the effects of state and institutional support on MSI undocumented students’ educational attainment. Specifically, the report will examine trends in enrollment, graduation, and transfers in the MSI context as a result of state interventions, and highlight undocumented student experiences as influenced by institutional policies and practices. The Center has selected Illinois as its case study because of several reasons. First, Illinois has an unconventionally longer history of supporting undocumented students, given that it enacted tuition equality in 2003. Illinois is also one of the states paying close attention to affordability, having instituted a privately funded, government-run scholarship fund for undocumented students in the state. Lastly, while some work on undocumented students has been done in the context of California or Texas, much has to be explored in states, like Illinois, that concentrate a relatively large undocumented population but exist as political “islands,” with nearby states with no state-level support for the undocumented.

Ultimately, the Center’s main goals with this report are to (1) contribute with findings that can support MSIs and the nation as a whole in better educating and serving undocumented students, and (2) further dispel myths about who MSIs are really for, by showing collaborations occurring across various social groups.

Fernando Coello and Elisa Chen are M.S.Ed. candidates in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and research assistants at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Addressing Sexual Violence at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Elisa Chen


Fernando Coello

From allegations of rape at Columbia University to the most recent Facebook scandal at The Penn State University, postsecondary institutions across the nation are facing increased scrutiny for how they handle campus sexual violence. This problem has become so pervasive that President Barack Obama recently established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, formally recognizing the growing epidemic overtaking higher education. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not immune. For instance, Lincoln University’s former President Robert Jennings came under fire last year for his comments at an all-women convocation that included students and staff.

Additional federal protections include Title IX and the Clery Act. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. As stated in the legislation, sexual assault and sexual harassment are forms of sexual discrimination. The Clery Act mandates institutions participating in federal student financial aid programs to disclose campus crime statistics, such as reports of forcible and nonforcible sexual offenses. Most recently, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) added new reporting and procedural requirements to the Clery Act. For instance, institutions must provide students with reasonable academic accommodations and living arrangements after assaults, and guarantee transparency in university disciplinary hearings.

Despite these laws, research reveals that campus sexual violence continues to be a problem. In fact, an estimated 20% of women attending Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) are sexually assaulted every year. At HBCUs, the rate is lower: 14%. Some have attributed this discrepancy to the fact that there is less alcohol use at HBCUs and that HBCUs tend to have inclusive family style communities. Conversely, others have argued that the rates are lower at HBCUs because of underreporting. Although it is extremely hard to determine the exact reasons for this discrepancy, the data does raise questions regarding what is being done at HBCUs to prevent and account for campus sexual violence, especially because HBCUs generally have less financial resources than their PWI counterparts.

Key questions include:

  1. What are HBCUs doing to comply with federal regulations?
  2. How are HBCUs dealing with campus sexual violence? How are HBCUs gathering resources and funding to fight campus sexual violence?
  3. How do HBCUs differ from PWIs in their approaches?
  4. How does campus climate affect students’ perceptions of campus sexual violence?
  5. How are students attending HBCUs encouraged to develop healthy sexual relationships?

It is important to conduct research on HBCUs and sexual violence because, when HBCUs rely on data from PWIs, HBCUs may not get a clear picture of the problem as applied to their own campuses. Additionally, understanding how HBCUs are combating campus sexual violence can shed insight into programs that are working versus those that are not.

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions is currently working on a report that examines the impacts of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office on Violence against Women (OVW) Campus Grant Program. The Center will select three HBCUs that have been awarded multi-year grants from this program as case studies. The research will analyze how the grants have been used to:

  1. Affect the number of incidents involving campus sexual violence
  2. Support student services
  3. Bolster training for university administrators and personnel
  4. Improve university relations with external organizations, like local law enforcement and victim advocacy organizations
  5. Influence student behavior and their understanding of campus sexual violence

Ultimately, the Center hopes the research will reveal important implications for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions with constricted financial resources looking to optimize external support in addressing campus sexual violence.

Elisa Chen and Fernando Coello are M.S.Ed. candidates in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and research assistants at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Between College Access and Outcomes: Considering Institutional Effort and Student Experiences in Outcomes Based Funding

Jones Photo

Tiffany Jones

Outcomes Based Funding

Over the last decade, higher education has become more entrenched in a movement that holds colleges and universities more accountable to its supporters. Similar to K12 accountability, there are pressures to answer questions about student outcomes and performance, the value of education, the effectiveness of instructors, and the ability of existing leaders to manage efficiently and effectively. It is within this climate that states have adopted Performance or Outcomes Based Funding (OBF) policies. Through OBF, public colleges and universities receive state funding through formulas that no longer rely solely on student enrollment, but are instead based on student outcomes. This means, lower student outcomes, like graduation rates, results in less funding for the college or university. So far, over half of all states have adopted a funding formula that takes student outcomes and institutional performance into account.

In some cases, OBF has resulted in stagnant or lower completion rates, and increased certificates rather than degree attainment to reach completion goals at community colleges. These findings have been met with controversy as some have called into question the lack of consideration of how diverse the policies are in each state. For example, HCM Strategists reports that only three states base more than 5% of their funds on student outcomes and the student outcome metrics vary, thus it is unfair to characterize the policies collectively as having a negative, or no impact on student outcomes. Further, it is also necessary to consider what OBF policies mean for students of color, low income students, and colleges and universities largely that primarily serve these student populations, such as Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).

Institutional Effort & MSIs

One cannot fully understand the impact of, and responses to OBF at MSIs without first considering the historical relationship between the state and the campus. In the case of South Carolina State University, the state legislature described a 2015 decision to close a public HBCU for two years as based on financial difficulties; however, this decision is colored by a history that includes the lack of land grant matching, permitting academic program duplication at neighboring Predominately White Institutions, and underfunding. The aim is not to use historical context as an excuse for what some characterize as poor outcomes; however, threatening an institution’s base funding as a means to spur innovation and improvement assumes that campuses have the resources they need to operate more effectively, but lack the incentives to do so. Thus, low resourced institutions, including many MSIs and their advocates, have challenged this assumption and the merits of any higher education accountability and rankings system, to accurately rate the performance of these institutions.

Rewarding Equitable College Experiences

Many OBF and other higher education accountability systems include equity related measures that credit institutions that create college access for underserved groups like, low income students and students of color. However a critical piece missing from the equity measures is what actually happens in regards to race and equity, during the college experience. Many would suggest that providing a healthy campus racial climate for students of color is key to this population’s long term success, and may be what MSIs do well, and some otherwise seemingly successful non-MSIs don’t do as well. Without moving beyond the enrollment of students of color to include measures of campus climate, institutional racism, and the experiences of students of color, it is difficult to determine which campuses are doing well and how to reward them.


States are actually well positioned to influence campuses because of how dependent public MSIs are on state funding. Over one-third of funding is based on state and local appropriations at four-year MSIs, only 17% for non-MSIs. The question is how can states leverage their influence to support MSI effectiveness? Also, if the funding formulas result in the same “winners” and “losers” in regards to who gets what funding, then do the policies have the ability to inspire change and innovation at any college or university? Even when agreeing that we should increase institutional effectiveness and improve student outcomes, it will be difficult to secure buy-in for OBF at MSIs if the metrics are not inclusive of the benefits and strengths of MSIs. Many institutions will respond to OBF policies because they can’t afford to ignore the even five percent of funding. Consequently, I challenge policy makers, higher education scholars, and practitioners to engage in a discussion about how to design incentives that reward institutions for cultivating college access, outcomes, and supportive college experiences for students of color.

Tiffany Jones is the Program Director for Higher Education Research and Policy at the Southern Education Foundation (SEF).



What we should talk about when we talk about HSIs


Anne-Marie Nuñez

Over the past two decades, as the Latino population has grown, several higher education institutions have become Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). In fact, according to the most recent analysis by Excelencia in Education, the number of HSIs between 1994 and 2013-14 more than doubled from 189 to 409 institutions. HSIs, therefore, are the largest and fast-growing kind of Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI). Unlike some other MSIs (HBCUs and TCUs in particular), HSIs were not designated with a mission to serve Hispanic students specifically. Rather, they were designated on the basis of enrollment – non-profit, degree-granting institutions with 25% or more full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment of undergraduate Hispanic students.

As a faculty member in an HSI who also conducts research on these institutions, I often hear three assumptions about HSIs: (1) HSIs are monolithic, (2) HSIs either ignore their HSI status or do a lot to serve their Hispanic students (that is, these institutions are “Hispanic-enrolling” or “Hispanic-serving”), and (3) HSIs are underperforming institutions when it comes to traditional metrics like graduation rates. Sylvia Hurtado, Emily Calderon Galdeano, and I have co-edited a newly released volume entitled Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Advancing Research and Transformative Practice. The research in the volume and other important emerging research offer a broader context within which to explore these assumptions.

First, HSIs are not monolithic and are in fact characterized by significant institutional diversity. They include two- and four-year private and public institutions, all of which are not-for-profit organizations, as well as many (about three in ten) in Puerto Rico. Gloria Crisp, Diane Elizondo, and I have also developed a typology of HSIs to better understand the range of HSIs. Using cluster analysis, we have identified six types of HSIs, each with distinctive characteristics from other types of HSIs: urban enclave community colleges, rural dispersed community colleges, big systems four-year institutions, small communities four-year institutions, Puerto Rican institutions, and health sciences institutions. Furthermore, as Awilda Rodriguez and Emily Calderon Galdeano have found, it is difficult to find several non-HSIs with comparable characteristics to HSIs, making many comparisons of outcomes at HSIs and non-HSIs inappropriate. This emerging research helps us characterize HSIs as a set of distinctive institutions in empirically grounded scholarship.

Second, because HSIs were not designated on the basis of institutional mission, often do not publicize their status in easily accessible forms like web page portals, and often have lower graduation rates for Latinos than other institutions, a common narrative about these institutions is that they either are doing nothing to support Hispanic students (merely “Hispanic-enrolling”) or that they do a lot to support these students (“Hispanic-serving”). My experiences as a faculty member in and researcher about these institutions suggest that constructing such a dichotomy oversimplifies the reality of how HSIs contribute to educating Latino students. New qualitative research, and a recent blog post on this site by Gina Garcia, confirms this assertion by suggesting that stakeholders may enact an organizational identity that is oriented toward supporting Hispanic students, even if that identity is not articulated in symbolic terms like mission statements. That is, faculty and staff in HSIs can behave in ways that serve Hispanic students, even if they do not represent their organizations as serving Hispanic students to entities outside of the university.

Third, although it is commonly assumed that HSIs are underperforming institutions because of their relatively low graduation rates, emerging research using rigorous quantitative approaches suggests that, in fact, it is pre-college factors, as well as HSIs’ limited institutional resources, that primarily explain HSIs’ low graduation rates. Prior research on this blog by Stella Flores and Toby Park indicates that, for HSIs in Texas, K-12 academic preparation before college entry accounts for the majority of differences in college graduation rates between HSIs and non-HSIs. Other national research by Awilda Rodriguez and Emily Calderon Galdeano in my recently published co-edited book also suggests that taking into account HSIs’ comparatively limited institutional resources (HSIs spend far less per student than non-HSIs), as well as their student characteristics, helps further explain the differences in graduation rates between HSIs and non-HSIs. Research by Marcela Cuellar in this book also suggests that Latino students in HSIs experience greater gains in academic self-concept and community orientation than their counterparts at non-HSIs. Thus, when other metrics are considered, HSIs are contributing positively to educating Latinos in more ways than once thought.

HSIs are dynamic and changing organizations. To really understand what we talk about when we talk about HSIs, we should employ the emerging empirical evidence to build an informed sense about these institutions. To do otherwise could have devastating consequences for Latino students and families and HSIs.

Anne-Marie Nuñez is an associate professor in higher education at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Learning from successful practices: The premedical program at Xavier University in New Orleans


By Beatrice Bridglall

By the year 2060, the U.S. is likely to have a more diverse population, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau projections. Specifically, minorities — defined as all but the single-race, non-Hispanic, white population, currently 37% of the U.S. population — are projected to become 57% of the population by 2060. Looking at the projections a bit more carefully, we see that the total minority population is expected to increase to 241.3 million, which is more than double the current number of 116.2 million.

Notwithstanding this expected population shift, current increases in medical school enrollment for Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino/a and Native American students do not accurately reflect their respective population growth. That is, although African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos/as and Native Americans currently comprise 31.5 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise, in the aggregate, only 12.3 percent of the current physician workforce.

As we engage on many fronts to meet increased demand for physicians, let us consider the track record of Xavier University (XU) in New Orleans. What can we learn from XU, considered the only historically Black, Catholic institution of higher education in the United States, and which manages to prepare and place underrepresented students into medical schools across the country (including Harvard, Northwestern, Baylor, Emory, Meharry and Tulane)? What’s more, 93% of students graduate and become practicing physicians and dentists.

This question reveals the deeply integral nature and active implementation of several principles of learning in XU’s premedical program. That is, the program:

  • Structures knowledge around the major concepts and organizing principles of several disciplines, including biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics, making it a knowledge-centered environment
  • Structures and shapes student learning around particular tasks and activities, making it a learner-centered environment
  • Academically and socially supports students’ capacity to learn with understanding vis-à-vis learning communities at many levels, making it a community-centered environment

Taken together, this approach supports the faculty’s focus on exit criteria rather than entrance requirements. It also informs the premedical faculty and staff members’ perspective that “course content, teaching methodology, and the rate of presentation should be determined by the relevant department as a whole, not by individual lecturers or textbooks.”* Toward this end, faculty members in the departments of biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics, jointly adapted and standardized several foundational courses, including general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, general physics and pre-calculus/calculus I. Faculty emphasized that, in planning meetings with members from each department, they “decide the material covered, the rate at which it is presented, and even the algorithms students will use in solving problems. This material is integrated in the workbooks students receive, which contain learning goals and sample problems, for example.”* As a result, “all faculty are aware of the content in basic courses and where to begin upper-level courses.” This ensures that “the responsibility for providing support is shared by all faculty, including new and adjunct faculty.”*

This integrated curriculum not only removes redundancies, but also reinforces difficult concepts and promotes conceptual mastery vis-à-vis interdisciplinary course work. As an indication of faculty commitment and dedication, this effort, which began in the early 1970s, continues today. Interviews with Dr. J.W. Carmichael, director of XU’s premed program, and premedical faculty indicate that this considerable curriculum modification stemmed from students’ struggles to conceptually link their mathematical knowledge with scientific concepts in general chemistry. Faculty also found that students tended to view getting additional tutoring in this area as embarrassing, and consequently did not actively avail themselves of it and other supports. Faculty moved thus to deliberately integrate academic supports as part of the course. This strategy ensured that “students are neither pre-judged because of their background nor punished for poor performance.”*

Thus, the standardization of biology and chemistry courses “provides structure. It helps tremendously, because we have students with a wide variety of backgrounds, and it helps to get everyone up to speed in one year. We believe we need to be very explicit about what students have to do. We are correcting for years and years of poor education. Everyone goes to tutoring. There is no stigma attached to tutoring. Standardized courses really make a difference” (personal communication, J.W. Carmichael, July 2005 and January 2010).

* Quotes from interviews with premedical faculty and staff conducted July 2005 to January 2010

Parts of this article are excerpted with permission from “Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Studies of three undergraduate programs in the US.” Bridglall, B.L. (2013) Lexington Books: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Dr. Beatrice Bridglall is Faculty Affiliate at the Institute for Social Development at NYU Shanghai and Fulbright Specialist, Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES).