Top 5 Social Media Tips for MSIs

Oscar Cullen

Oscar Cullen

In today’s day and age, it is crucial for higher education institutions to share their information online and connect with students in any and every way possible.  One of the most meaningful and effective ways to do so is through social media.  Below you can find my top 5 tips for MSIs to succeed on social media: from building a better audience, to delivering the right content!

1. Have a Clear Strategy

This is key for anyone that is trying to build new social media followings.  You don’t have to be on every single platform, if you’re new to social media, starting off with Twitter & Facebook is a great way to go; the most important thing is to have one clear strategy across all of your online mediums.  This means sharing similar content that delivers the same core message to your followers.  Your content should be aligned with the overall goal of the institution so as to portray a single image on and offline.

Example: Paul Quinn College’s #nationbuilding campaign | Check them out on Facebook & Twitter.

2. Stay Local

MSIs are very powerful in many different ways.  One of the biggest responsibilities MSIs carry is the impact they have on their communities. Use this to grow your social media following by posting content that is relevant to the communities your institution affects. You don’t read your local paper to find out what is happening around the world, you read it to see what is happening in the place you live that affects the people you love. Your social media posts should work the same way.

Example: College of Menominee Nation | Check them out on Facebook & Twitter.

3. Manage Your Reputation

When it comes to social media, anyone can become a reporter; you have to make sure you are controlling the conversation surrounding your institution. Make sure you are aware of everything that is being said about your college on social media so that you can reinforce what is true and clarify what may be wrong or misinterpreted by others. Alert systems such as Mention are a great way to keep track of this across multiple social media platforms.

Example: Cal State Fullerton | Check them out on Facebook & Twitter.

4. Brag About Your People, Show off Your Campus!

Whether it be students or faculty, highlighting their accomplishments is a great way to build your institution’s reputation.  Additionally, highlighting new additions to your campus is a great way to engage with alumni & potential donors!  These posts are one of the most likely to get shared by your audience because, let’s face it, our friends and professors love bragging about their students!

Example: Howard University | Check them out on Facebook & Twitter.

5. Get Your Audience Engaged

The best social media success is getting your audience to provide content for you and to share the content you deliver.  There are several ways you can do this:

  • Ask your students to share pictures of campus and you will re-share or Retweet the best ones! This is a great way to get your students to follow you and get them engaged with their institutions online.

  • In addition to photos, asking for feedback, asking questions, retweeting or commenting on other posts are also great ways to increase engagement from your audience.

  • Encouraging professors to engage with students on Twitter is also a great way to improve relationships between faculty & students.

  • Make content such as your school blog easy to share by adding Facebook & Twitter plugins.

  • Finally, engage with prospective students by allowing them to ask questions using a specific Hashtag. Both Twitter & Facebook are great tools for this.

Example: Morehouse College | Check them out on Facebook & Twitter.

Following these tips is a great way to get you started or build on your current following!  If you have any questions or want more tips feel free to follow me on Twitter @OscarACullen & private message me!

Oscar Cullen is a social media specialist at the Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions and a senior undergraduate studying marketing and operations management at the Wharton School.

Consider the Source

An open letter to my future college-going friends:

Andrew Arroyo

Andrew T. Arroyo

Consider the source. During your four or more years in college, you will sit through a lot of class periods—a lot of them! According to various national figures, if you attend the average mainstream institution, upwards of 80-90% or more of the instructors running those class periods will be non-Hispanic white. Meanwhile, the real America is far more mosaic in terms of racial/ethnic composition, with non-Hispanic whites representing 63% of the population. And this is to say nothing of diversity worldwide. Simply put, the information flow of most American higher educational institutions is controlled disproportionately by white people.

Please understand. I am not degrading the white voice. I am a white male! What I am suggesting is to consider the source of all that information you will amass during those endless class periods. No information is bias-free; it is naturally coated with the opinions and perspectives of its deliverer. Yes, this includes allegedly objective college professors like me. And, like it or not, some of our opinions and perspectives are shaped by our race/ethnicity.

The question for you, my future college-going friend, is: How would you like your hard-earned information? Served up narrowly with only a small slice of diversity? Or dished out with healthy portions of racial/ethnic variety to keep things interesting and better prepare you for life?

If you prefer diversity, I would like to invite you to investigate my neck of the woods: one of our nation’s historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs). It is easy to write off HBCUs under the assumption that we are “all Black” (as if that is a bad thing?). In actuality, we are more diverse than you might think. I will leave student demographics for another time, but I do want to underscore our wonderfully colorful faculty. Robert Bruce Slater, writing in the Autumn 1993 issue of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, wrote accurately that “the only significant diversity in academic ranks in this country exists in Black colleges and universities.” (p. 67). Overall, white instructors comprise some 30% of the HBCU teaching force, with the remainder coming from other racial/ethnic groups. Since there is no shortage of white perspectives in the real world, you won’t miss anything.

Instead, you will gain much in terms of alternate racial/ethnic perspectives on information you once thought was settled. Early results of an original qualitative study I am conducting with a colleague on the experiences of non-Black HBCU graduates suggest that you will gain a different twist on historical and current events that is absent from many white-dominant schools. You will discover a cultural warmth and helpfulness among our faculty that is impossible to capture with words on a page. Essentially, you will experience new levels of open-mindedness that inevitably produce rare opportunities for self-learning, including learning about your own biases and cultural heritage.

Again: Consider the source. I am a white male of a race and gender that has, and continues to, hold sway in American society and around the world. (We call this hegemony in academic-speak.) Survival instincts would prompt me to direct you to higher educational centers filled with white male voices so I can further solidify my power. But those would be unenlightened survival instincts. In truth, the world is a crowded place with many voices. The true leaders are those who draw information from multiple perspectives, including different races/ethnicities. If I want to be a leader in this world, I must actively place myself in situations where I allow those perspectives to influence my life.

You would be wise to do the same. What better place than college for this to happen? Where better than an HBCU? See you next semester!

P.S. – If attending an HBCU is impractical for your particular situation, then you might investigate one of the nation’s many other minority-serving institutions, or MSIs. Although all MSI faculty bodies might not be as diverse as HBCUs, the key is to make your college experience a diverse one to prepare you for the real world. An up-to-date list of MSIs can be found here.

Andrew T. Arroyo is assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Norfolk State University and an affiliate at Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions

Identify Your Institutional Niche, then Ask for Support

Nelson Bowman III

Nelson Bowman III

In 2012, $21 billion was given philanthropically to colleges and universities in the United States. However, Minority Serving Institutions, which educate 20% of all college students, received only $1.1 billion or 5% of the contributions [1]. Why is that? Is it fair? Historically, there is un-refuted evidence that funding preferences at the state and federal levels as well as among the private sector have favored majority institutions. Just recently, we witnessed music mogul Dr. Dre give $35 million to the University of Southern California, an institution he never attended and with which he did not have a previous relationship. While the gift is by far the largest to a university by any African American in history, many from the Black community asked, “Why give to an institution so steeped in wealth when such a gift could have transformed a few dozen MSIs – specifically Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)?

As a fundraiser for an HBCU, I understand how these critics feel and momentarily felt the same way, but what I realized is that my institution did not ask him to give. Did yours? Why not?

If the funding streams into our Minority Serving Institutions are ever going to increase, we must commit to doing a better job of communicating our institutional niche and, in some cases, that may require developing one. Many MSIs fail to mention the great and unique work that they do, choosing instead to keep such information to themselves or share it with only a select few. This mindset needs to change as the days of being the best kept secret in town are long gone, especially given that the majority of these institutions are tuition-driven, which suggests they need more students.

Rather than maintaining a closed mouth—which does not get fed—MSIs would benefit from discussing their efforts to assist President Obama with meeting his challenge to the nation of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. The fact is, many MSIs have already begun the process of gathering and using student progress data for strategic planning and institutional decision-making. The use of this information will, in most cases, strengthen retention and graduation rates, thereby helping President Obama meet his goal. In addition, ensuring the success of students through data-driven processes demonstrates just how committed MSIs are to their original mission of serving the traditionally underserved.

Funders hearing how an MSI is tackling a national problem on campus might be inclined to take a closer look at the institution, potentially partner and cast an even larger footprint on addressing the problem. Funders want to be part of successful initiatives.

Returning to the Dr. Dre gift – given that 40% of all headphones carry the ‘Beats By Dre’ logo and that a significant number of students on Black campuses are sporting them, I think that a compelling case could have been made by a few collaborating HBCUs, showcasing the financial support (sales) the musician receives from HBCU students. Another area of interest HBCUs could have appealed to is Dr. Dre’s passion to providing education and opportunity to the next generation of musicians. According to published reports, his gift to USC will be used to launch a new degree program – one that will also involve liberal arts, graphic art, music and technology. Dr. Dre’s interests force me to ask why HBCUs with marching bands, music departments, and business and technology departments didn’t reach out to him?

Imagine the possibilities, had we only asked…

Nelson Bowman III is the executive director of development at Prairie View A&M University and an Advisory Board member of Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions

[1]  These data are based on IPEDS data collected in Fall 2012 (variable: ‘Private Gifts, Contracts, and Grants’, which includes revenues from private (non-governmental) entities including revenue from research or training projects and similar activities and all contributions (including contributed services) except those from affiliated entities, which are included in contributions from affiliated entities. The figures listed as the total amounts received by MSIs and Title IV institutions are not complete. For MSIs, the amount listed only represents the data released by 27% of all MSIs. The data compiled by IPEDS only has this information for 175 out of the 649 MSIs analyzed. For Title IV institutions, out of the 7,508, only 1,844 released information. And, from these 1,844 institutions, 233 of them listed their Total Gifts, Grants, and Contracts as $0 (effectively, only 1,611 released their data [21% of all Title IV institutions]).

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3: Minority Serving Institutions and the Future Teachers of this Nation

Emery Petchauer

Emery Petchauer

For two weeks every summer, approximately 250 college students studying to be teachers descend upon the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ for the Philadelphia Urban Seminar. Representing 17 different institutions, the young adults work with students and learn from teachers in schools all across North Philly as part of their undergraduate teacher education program. Not everyone is cut out to be an urban teacher. Some need to learn the quick lesson that wanting to “save” kids in city schools won’t get them very far. Consequently, “Urban Sem” is an opportunity for prospective teachers at many of Pennsylvania’s rural and suburban institutions to show and prove in the city.

But “Urban Sem” has a way of showing and proving something else too. The first year that students from my university were there, only 15 of the entire 250 prospective teachers were African American. How many institutions were these 15 students from? Only one. Mine. Lincoln University, the nation’s oldest degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

As in many other sectors of society, HBCUs, and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) more broadly, have put both talent and diversity into the teaching profession. About half of the African American teachers in U.S. public schools came from HBCUs. And STEM teachers? My dean at Lincoln, Judith Thomas, used to remind us that eighty percent of the math and science teachers in Pennsylvania were educated at an HBCU. Take away teacher education at MSIs, and the teaching profession gets so White it’s nearly clear.

As of 2012, over half of children under 1 year old are children of color. And states with student of color populations over 50 percent are no longer those bordering Mexico. Illinois just joined the club. A diverse country is a strong country, particularly if our teaching force follows these trends too. But will it? And will teacher education programs at MSIs continue to be a pipeline for teacher diversity? To answer this question, one has to look at the three main ways that policymakers gauge the quality of teachers today: tests, tests, and—wait for it—more tests. These include prospective teachers’ scores on paper and pencil licensure exams. Despite that these scores have a murky relationship with more direct indicators of teaching effectiveness, they remain key criteria for admissions into teaching programs. Yes, teaching is a major that students must test into.

 The widespread policy of testing has immense implications for MSI teacher education programs. One component of program accreditation is how many students graduate from it. If a program has few graduates, it will be in jeopardy of losing accreditation and shutting down. Students cannot graduate from a program, let alone be admitted into one, without passing the test.  While this puts all kinds of institutions (particularly smaller ones) in hot water, it can put MSIs in boiling water. HBCUs, specifically, are a case in point. Educational Testing Service – who creates the most widely used licensure exams – tells us that there is a ~40% pass rate gap between African American and White first-time test takers. This means that in addition to teaching students disciplinary knowledge and skills, HBCUs have the extra duty of preparing their students for licensure exams. Some institutions such as Delaware State have gotten ahead of the curve and done a great job. Others have not.

In the midst of big numbers and “passing gap” percentages, it’s important to keep in mind that many test takers of color easily pass the exam on their first attempt. I remember Brandon, an African American student of mine at Lincoln who passed the test on his first shot. “So how’d you do it?” I asked him after he received his scores. “Honestly, Doc,” he began, “I studied a little bit the night before, but that’s about it. I’m not the kind of person who stresses out before other tests. So why should I change who I am for this one?”

Brandon had a point. In fact, he signals a key finding from my own research on licensure exams and African American preservice teachers. I’ve found that for many test takers, there is more to the exam than knowledge and skills. The exam preparation and performance often taps into how they think about themselves as learners, test takers, and students. And for some African American test takers, the exam can become a deeply racialized event well beyond bubbling in letters. In light of this finding, efforts to prepare students of color for licensure exams must concern more than just knowledge and skills. They must also address students’ beliefs about their capabilities, develop their identities as test takers, and surround them with a network of success.

Policymakers and even test designers often fail to understand this component of the exam. Consequently, teacher education programs at HBCUs and MSIs more generally must continue to go above and beyond to sustain their programs and prepare their students. The diversity of the teaching profession depends on it.

Emery Petchauer is assistant professor of teacher development and educational studies at Oakland University. 

Hidden Treasures: The Colleges and Universities that are Finally Being Noticed

Marybeth Gasman & Thai-Huy P. Nguyen

Marybeth Gasman & Thai-Huy P. Nguyen


As our nation begins to reexamine its social structure—one, which for so long has been perceived to reward merit and hard work, but in actuality reproduces social class inequities and prevents minority groups from upward mobility—a vision for a new educational landscape must include MSIs. Research and national attention on MSIs have risen dramatically in the past five years, including last week’s Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) new report, Minority-Serving Institutions: Doing More with Less. Unlike prior studies that look at individual MSI sectors—Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs)—IHEP’s recent release pushes its readership to consider the broader magnitude of these institutions’ efforts and outcomes, in light of growing financial constraints that continue to nip and tug at their budget lines.

According to IHEP’s report, we know that MSIs enroll 22% of all undergraduates and 39% of all undergraduate students of color and award nearly 16% of all undergraduate degrees and 32% of all credentials awarded to undergraduate students of color, despite making up only 14% of all undergraduate-serving institutions. They are doing more with less, but how much more? Representing a collaboration with Lumina Foundation for Education, this report offers a breakdown and comparison of student tuition, total expenses and spending on instructions and support between MSIs and non-MSIs. Such analyses and comparisons are necessary to understand the extent to which the recent economic downturns have affected these MSIs’ capacity to serve their students. Several notable findings include:

  • “Average net price after all sources of grant aid for students with family incomes below $30,000 was $10,548 at four-year MSIs and $6,532 at two-year MSIs” (p. 10). For non-MSIs, the price is $15,735 and $12,127 for four- and two-year institutions, respectively.
  • “Four-year non-MSIs receive more than double the amount of federal appropriations, grants, and contracts than MSIs” (p. 12).
  • “Private gifts, grants, and contracts, investment return, and revenue from affiliated entities made up only 5% of total revenue at four-year MSIs, compared with 22% at non-MSIs” (p. 12).
  • “Net tuition and fee revenue made up about 42% of total revenue at four-year MSIs and 22% at two-year MSIs” (p. 12), as compared to 38% and 34% at four and two-year non-MSIs. This suggests that four-year MSIs and 2-year institutions have less resources for instruction and student services.
  • Per student, four-year MSIs spend $6,275 on instruction, almost $5,000 less than non-MSIs. For student services and academic and institutional support, expenditures per student at four-year non-MSIs is $8,399, $2,649 more than four-year MSIs. Spending between 2-year MSIs and non-MSIs is similar. (p. 13)

Tasked with the same responsibilities to improve our nation’s workforce as non-MSIs, MSIs are, at the very least, doing as much with less. But even in an era of severe frugality, several MSIs have identified strategies to maintain or improve their capacity to support their students. Highlighted for their innovative practices and approaches to a lack of funding, four institutions, one from each of the main MSI sectors, represent lessons for all institutions—those struggling to improve the achievement of underrepresented minority students, as well as institutions contending with financial constraints—to consider.

At the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), an HSI, the Center for Institutional Evaluation Research and Planning has been the bedrock of their success. Approaching student success with the belief that quality data is the first step in improving educational outcomes, the Center created a web-based tool that allows administrators, faculty and staff to monitor and track student progress, as well as identify trending factors that are associated with student attrition. With this level of specificity, UTEP has the ability to minimize any cracks in the pipeline.

At North Caroline Central University, an HBCU, decisions to restructure the campus led to a savings of $2 million dollars. These savings were used to fund new student programs, as well as develop learning communities (LCs) for faculty. These LCs offered faculty members an opportunity to learn new ways to teach, and ultimately improve student learning and success in the classroom.

De Anza College, an AANAPISI, in Northern California, enacted several new policies and practices that allow them to maintain student services for their targeted group. Partnerships were developed and cultivated within the campus, between departments, and with the local community. A task force—made up of faculty, administrators, staff and students—“agreed to share labor and other financial resources across their grants in order to ensure that the funds were effectively and efficiently used” (p.17). And any new services or programs, developed from a grant, are built upon existing student services, saving the institution both time and money.

Salish Kootenai, a TCU in Montana, established a department of academic success, which serves as its central unit to monitor and capture student progress in remedial education. And because a large portion of their students begin their tenure in remedial education, a system that coordinates across departments became a valuable tool to mitigate student attrition.

These institutions are vastly different in their population and institutional structure; however, their approaches to doing more with less includes one powerful and common feature: the goal to improve student success as a community effort. Buy-in from faculty, staff, administrators and students is required if an institution is to survive an era of economic instability. This is the big lesson: if we all did a little extra—spent a bit more time caring for each student—the funds lost during this tight period may matter less.

For more information on Minority Serving Institutions Models of Success, see the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institution’s report Minority Serving Institutions: Educating All Students.

Note:  This post was co-published with The Huffington Post.

Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSIs). Thai-Huy P. Nguyen is a Ph.D. candidate in higher education at PennGSE and a research assistant at CMSIs. 

Learning from each other: Creating and sustaining communities among MSIs

Dina Maramba

Dina Maramba

If we really want to learn how to help students of color succeed in higher education, we should be looking to Minority Serving Institution. On November 1-3, 2013 a number of educational leaders and supporters of Minority Serving Institutions congregated at the Chauncey Conference Center in Princeton, New Jersey led by Drs. Marybeth Gasman (University of Pennsylvania) and Clifton Conrad (University of Wisconsin, Madison).  I was fortunate to be one of the participants at the National Convening on Minority Serving Institutions. I was also very excited about what I would learn about the 12 participating MSIs in the Models of Success Project.

During the convening, while I listened to each of the MSIs share how they provided supportive environments and their efforts toward developing successful learning communities for their students, what also crossed my mind was the potential for similar learning communities for and among those involved with MSIs.

As someone who has spent the better part of my career studying college students of color, I always knew that MSIs had valuable lessons to teach us. The Convening reinforced my hunch as I learned about the culturally relevant practices and positive student outcomes. By having an understanding of each institution’s specific context, their specific programmatic efforts and the critical data collected by each of the MSIs, it helped me create a clearer picture of why their strategies proved to be successful. I also became better educated on the relationship of funders and their pivotal role in supporting MSIs, namely: Lumina Foundation for Education, the Kresge Foundation, USA Funds and Educational Testing Services.

Upon further reflection, the camaraderie between MSI leaders, scholars, and funders at the Convening became evident, suggesting that this group of people could become a learning community. This led me to ask “What aspects of successful student learning communities can we use to develop a successful professional learning community amongst MSIs?

Similar to student learning communities, MSI professional learning communities may be equally beneficial and have at least three potential advantages:

1)     Create a better understanding of each other’s cultural, political, and economic contexts. In student learning communities, students are encouraged to learn from each other on various levels beyond academics. On a similar level, an MSI professional learning community can be encouraged to learn from each other beyond an institution’s demographics and numerical student outcomes. More importantly, while these communities can help recognize valuable similarities amongst MSIs, they can also provide for each other a more critical understanding of the nuances and cultural contexts that influence how each MSI uniquely addresses these distinctions.

For example, while some MSIs have existed longer than others, we can never learn enough about both established and newly established MSIs as their contexts are always changing. In the case of AANAPISIs, the newest of MSIs, these institutions have challenged the longstanding misunderstandings and misrepresentations about the complex diversity of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.  AANPISIs have helped bring to the surface the need to address the large economic and educational disparities that occur within the AAPI population. AANAPISIs have at least 10% of its population identified as Asian American/Pacific Islander and must meet certain federal Pell Grant guidelines.  Therefore, funded AANAPISIs have recognized issues that affect particular AAPI populations and through a nuanced understanding of the institution’s and students’ contexts, are able to help effectively address AAPI concerns.  It is through learning about each other’s contexts that an understanding can be established and the possibility of collaborative learning relationships can be formed.

2)     Facilitate better collaborative and learning relationships amongst various stakeholders: researchers, faculty, administrators, practitioners and students within and among MSIs.

As a former student affairs professional and now a faculty member, I have observed the imagined boundaries among researchers, faculty, administrators, and practitioners that continue to stubbornly exist and often prevent authentic community relationships and understanding. However, the consistent interaction, continued effort and willingness to learn from each other may help foster future collaborations with stakeholders within and among MSIs.

3)     Create an environment of support and advocacy amongst the MSIs.

Meaningful and collaborative relationships eventually lead to naturally supporting and advocating for each other especially within environments and situations that call for speaking up for the benefit of all MSIs as a collective.

In sum, these may be ways in which we can consider creating and sustaining MSI professional learning communities. In my observation, the MSI convening in November planted a seed for this possibility to take place.

Dina Maramba is Associate Professor of Student Affairs Administration and Asian and Asian American Studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton and an affiliate at PennGSE’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions