When HSIs Aren’t an Option, Some Hispanic Students Are Choosing to Attend HBCUs over PWIs—Here’s Why

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Heather J. Mathers

As the Hispanic population continues to grow at exponential rates in the United States, higher education institutions are seeing increasing numbers of Hispanic students walking through their doors. As of 2012, Hispanics have displaced African Americans as the largest minority population and have become the largest minority group on college campuses. Although many Hispanic students choose to attend one of the over 400 designated Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), there are oftentimes geographical, financial, or other limitations that may affect their ability to enroll in these colleges and universities. The reality is that the majority of Hispanic students find themselves in educational settings where they are the minority, and their reasons for choosing to attend one type of institution over another is relevant for understanding today’s Hispanic college student.

In 15 interviews conducted at three different public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic students reflected on their reasons for choosing their respective institutions over other possible alternatives, including Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Pseudonyms have been used to protect participant privacy.

Manny, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, stated, “The fact that it’s an HBCU made me think that they actually appreciated people who are from different areas. There is also a Multicultural Center, which made me think it was a diverse university compared to others.”

Another student, Freddie, a senior majoring in criminal justice and psychology, found the faculty and staff at his HBCU to be more involved than what his peers’ experienced at PWIs. He stated, “I looked into professors and the criminal justice department as well as psychology, and I was able to speak with them during orientation, and they actually seemed like they cared about the student. And it wasn’t even like a one-time thing, because after we exchanged contact information, email and everything, it would still be the same level of care and everything. So based off of my other friends that went to traditionally White institutions, most of my friends said they just see them like another student. They did not take the time to speak with them or meet with them. So that was definitely a big reason why I attended a HBCU.”

Additionally, many students experienced a strong sense of belonging and a sense of campus community at their respective HBCUs. Tabitha, a senior majoring in psychology, commented that she applied to multiple institutions, but once she got to her HBCU, she felt “a good family vibe from the college,” which solidified her decision to attend.

Juan, a senior majoring in criminal justice, discussed how the increased diversity on campus has resulted in a more positive experience for him. He commented, “It is a great university; it is a great place to be. I am really comfortable. There are more Latinos and it is getting more diverse, which kind of in a way I do like even though some African American students wouldn’t want that. But I do like it, because it is still going to be a HBCU school, but I just like it how the university is bringing a lot more different races to the school.”

Other participants reflected on how they have grown as individuals at their respective HBCUs because of their ability to learn about other races through culturally enriched study and a historically-driven campus community.

Jennifer, a senior majoring in sociology, stated, “I feel like because there are predominantly Black students [on campus] that I have gained a lot of confidence when it comes to understanding who I am and my background and just relating to other students. I can relate to a lot of other students even though we are not from the same area and we might not have culturally the same background.”

The unfortunate reality is that many PWIs are rarely diverse, except when located in urban settings. Conversely, research suggests that HBCUs are the most integrated and diverse higher education institutions that currently exist. They are more nurturing and inclusive than other educational settings, and the resources that are unique to HBCUs could be beneficial for other minority populations, specifically Hispanics, who encounter similar socioeconomic and educational struggles as their African American peers.

As many HBCUs are working towards increasing diversity on campus, the inclusion of their growing Hispanic population cannot be ignored. Examining why these individuals choose to attend HBCUs allows for a greater understanding of how to recruit, retain, and serve this growing demographic to further enrich diversity efforts in higher education nationwide.

Heather J. Mathers holds a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education from Cardinal Stritch University. Her research interests include the Hispanic student population, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, ethnic identity development, multiculturalism, diversity in higher education, and social justice issues.

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