The University of California, Irvine is among the latest to earn the “Hispanic-Serving Institution” designation, joining a fast-growing group of U.S. higher education institutions that educate a student body that is at least 25% Hispanic.
And while many colleges and universities become HSIs by accident — simply by virtue of changing demographics — UC-Irvine’s goal of becoming an HSI has been a clear part of its strategic plan. The number of Latino students on UCI’s campus has more than doubled in the last decade, thanks to targeted recruitment efforts and pipeline building.
Importantly, Joseph Morales, assistant director for strategic initiatives and partnerships in UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, said the work hasn’t stopped there. UCI has not only worked to enroll more Latino students but support them as well. Morales says the goal is to have a “Latino-thriving” campus.
“When you look at the strategic plan, there is an aspiration to be a national leader and a global model of what we are calling inclusive excellence,” Morales said. As a public research institution, UCI has taken seriously its commitment to serve the residents of the state, and more than 50% of California K-12 students are Latino.
Trends in funding, growth of HSIs
The United States Congress defined Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the 1992 rewrite of the Higher Education Act. Over the next 10 years or so, the number of qualifying institutions grew slowly, from 189 in 1994 to 245 in 2005. The following 10 years were a different story.
The number of HSIs has surged in the last decade, in part because of demographic changes nationwide and in part because of greater academic success among Latinos in general. A larger portion of Latino high schoolers are getting their diplomas and more of them are going on to college at the same time that a growing share of the U.S. student population is identified as Latino.
The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) counted 472 HSIs in 2015, with 161 institutions becoming HSIs in the preceding five years alone.
Meanwhile, federal funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions has gone down. At a time when more schools are eligible to compete for this money, the pool has gotten smaller. John Moder, senior vice president and chief operating officer of HACU, said the peak year for funding of HSIs was in 2010, when the federal government allocated $255 million. The current funding is $219 million, he said.
HACU has long argued for more money, in part because they say Hispanic-Serving Institutions are underfunded. According to a HACU analysis, only 69 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government on higher education in 2010 went to HSIs.
“These are institutions that are underfunded by the federal government,” Moder said. “By and large, they’re also underfunded by their states. They’re not the wealthy institutions with the big endowments.”
And, as they get a smaller share of government funding, they serve students who are more likely to be first-generation college students and low-income, two qualities that indicate students need more attention and support to succeed.
Serving underrepresented minorities at UCI
UCI has spent years creating an infrastructure to recruit and retain Latino students and other underrepresented groups. Its Center for Educational Partnerships has developed relationships with school districts and community colleges in the region, focusing on college and transfer prep. The undergraduate admissions office hosts Spanish-language information sessions and workshops across the state as well as on campus. They also make recruitment and counseling visits to community organizations as well as high schools and community colleges with large Latino populations. Helping low-income students afford UCI with financial aid and scholarships has been a priority.
Morales said one major focus of these efforts is to instill a level of confidence in these traditionally underrepresented students.
“One of the goals is to help students believe in their ability to achieve a UC education,” Morales said.
His office, the Office of Inclusive Excellence, further drives the university’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. Among other things, it organizes speaker series on these topics, offers trainings and conducts research. Last year, a report drilled down into the nuances of UCI’s Latino student body, how well the institution was serving them and how it can improve.
Among its key findings was that Latino students disproportionately transfer out of STEM majors and that they are underrepresented in the campus honors program. Morales said the university plans to find out why students make those transfer decisions and offer more supports to help Latinos remain in STEM fields. Already the share of Latinos in the honors program has increased substantially based on changes prompted by the report.
UCI, as a tier-one research university, is rare in its quest to serve so many traditionally underrepresented groups. In addition to its designation as an HSI this year, UCI became an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution as well, and more than 50% of its graduating class this spring was a first-generation college student.
And this progress has not gone unnoticed. The New York Times 2015 College Access Index ranked UCI as the university doing the most for the American dream, and Diverse Issues in Higher Education ranked UCI as seventh in the nation for awarding bachelor’s degrees to minority students in the 2014-15 school year.
At this point, pairing inclusion and excellence has become an integral part of UCI’s brand.