Hispanic Serving Institutions & Federal Support

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Maria E. Luna-Duarte

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) offer opportunities for Hispanic students to enrich their academic experience. A successful program that promotes the continued growth of Latino enrollment in Higher Education is the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program. The USDA partners with colleges and universities across the country with a high percentage of Latino students to provide support to faculty and students via fellowships, scholarships and internship opportunities with the federal government. HSIs are oftentimes underfunded and these programs create an opportunity for funding to allow them to continue to fulfill their missions.

A program that faculty and staff at HSIs can benefit from is the E. Kika de La Garza Fellowship Program. De la Garza was the Democratic representative from Texas that served on Congress for more than 30 years. The fellowship was established in his honor given that during his tenure, he sponsored numerous pieces of legislation related to education and agriculture. This fellowship program allows faculty and staff from HSIs to work in collaboration with the USDA to gain an insider view and understand the work of various areas and programs of the federal government.

During the year of 2012, I had the opportunity to be an E. Kika de La Garza Fellow with the USDA in Washington D.C. Through this fellowship I not only had the opportunity to grow as a professional, but I was also able to learn about the opportunities available for Latino students. Working with faculty and policy makers in the country’s capital gave me a new perspective on how stakeholders address the educational challenges faced by this community.

The fellowship also helped me to understand the role of the federal government in educational matters related to the availability of programs from K-16 and the educational policy making process since the partnership between the USDA and the other areas of the federal government is often interrelated. As a result of the fellowship and with the help of one of the USDA regional directors, I was able to return to the HSI where I work, Northeastern Illinois University, and reach out to community partners to begin programing for children and youth. I organized workshops and events to provide Latino college students information about the various opportunities related to scholarships, internships and employment opportunities available with the federal government.

Another program offered by the USDA is the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program, which “is intended to promote and strengthen the ability of HSIs to carry out higher education programs in the food and agricultural sciences.” The significance of this program is that those grants help attract Latino students to major in the STEM fields and agricultural sciences, assist with their retention by creating opportunities for individualized support, and help them complete a degree in the sciences. The remarkable goal of this program is to help Latino students to become professionals who can one day become part of the agricultural scientific workforce.

Latinos remain underrepresented in the STEM fields. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2014), “less than 2 percent of the STEM workforce is Hispanic while almost 20 percent of the country’s youth population is Hispanic.” It is important to encourage underrepresented students to go into the STEM fields early on in their education career since many of them are not exposed to these types of opportunities in elementary schools or high schools, particularly in urban settings. The Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants award allows for the creation of programs to strengthen the pipeline of Latino students to careers in the sciences since often minority students think that the only alternative to go into the sciences is to become a doctor or nurse, without realizing that there are many more opportunities.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program and the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program are programs that have proven to make a difference for Hispanic students and those that help them in becoming successful at their respective HSI.

For more information about these programs you can visit:


Maria E. Luna-Duarte is a Ph.D. Student in Policy Studies in Urban Education & Interim Director at Northeastern Illinois University El Centro.

Charting a New Agenda: Being More Intentional about Examining the Experiences of Black Students at HBCUs


Robert T. Palmer

As a graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) for my PhD in Higher Education Administration and an active researcher on HBCUs, I am happy to see that there is more empirical research on these institutions. Research on HBCUs focuses on a variety of areas, such as faculty governance, desegregation, college presidents, and their success in disproportionally producing minority STEM graduates. With that said, there is still a need for scholars to be more intentional about conducting research on Black students at HBCUs. Unfortunately, most of the research on students at HBCUs compares the experiences of Black students at these institutions with their counterparts at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). While this research helps to demonstrate the relevance of HBCUs by highlighting the supportive campus climate they foster, researchers must be more intentional about providing a contemporary examination of Black students—both male and female—enrolled in these institutions.

Additional research on Black students at HBCUs must go beyond what the literature has consistently found to be true about these students—they are immersed in a supportive climate that helps to facilitate their psychosocial development and maximize their academic success. I am not suggesting researchers stop discussing what many consider to be a unique feature of HBCUs—their supportive, nurturing, and family oriented climates. I think highlighting these aspects periodically is critical; however, if we do not challenge ourselves to focus on other aspects of student experiences at HBCUs, we are limiting our ability to provide HBCUs with best practices to help them increase student retention and persistence. For example, more attention needs to focus on how HBCUs can promote Black male engagement on campus. Moreover, more research should be devoted to studying the experiences of successful students at HBCUs to see what lessons, if any, could be extended to other students on campus to help increase their success. Furthermore, we have to be more intentional of studying the within group differences among Black students at HBCUs. Not all students experience HBCUs in the same way.

One question that certainly warrants greater exploration about students at HBCUs is the challenges they encounter while working toward degree completion. There is ample evidence that indicates HBCUs disproportionately admit students who are low-income, first-generation, and dependent on financial aid. Students who fall into one or more of these categories may face certain challenges, such as balancing the need to work part-time or full-time while attending classes to support their education or lacking access to cultural capital (e.g., knowledge and skills) to help facilitate their collegiate success. While having some understanding of the characteristics of HBCU students as well as some of the challenges these characteristics may engender is critical, it is equally important to be attentive to other challenges HBCU students may experience. Unfortunately, as with the case for research on students at HBCUs, research that delineates challenges to the success of HBCU students is lacking.

HBCUs can play an important role in helping researchers produce contemporary knowledge on Black students on their campuses. One of the ways they can do this is by allowing researchers, who have an IRB, onto their campuses to conduct interviews, focus groups or engage in other data collecting activities with their students. I understand that HBCUs are concerned with allowing “outsiders” on their campuses to collect data because institutional leaders think that they might use the data to paint a negative picture of these institutions. I think this is a valid concern. I am not suggesting that HBCUs open up their campuses to just anyone under the guise of conducting research on their students. I am suggesting, however, that HBCUs be more proactive in working with researchers. The outcome of this will provide HBCU leaders with better insight about some of the contemporary experiences and challenges of Black students and help HBCUs to implement best practices to improve student outcomes.

Dr. Robert T. Palmer is an associate professor of Student Affairs Administration at the State University of New York at Binghamton and an affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.