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. 

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