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Just the Stats: Solving the Hispanic-Serving Institution Riddle

One source said 209. The source in another story said 236. My editor asked me to sort it out. I’m a researcher and even I couldn’t give her a definitive answer to her question: How many Hispanic-Serving Institutions are there?

The U.S. Census reports that Hispanics are already the largest minority population in the country, and the numbers are growing. Hispanics are projected to account for 16.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, up from 13.8 percent in 2004. Hispanics are expected to account for 18.9 percent of the population in 2025 and 24 percent in 2050. These increases will almost certainly shift the racial and ethnic make-up of enrollment rates at colleges and universities, creating a fluid situation in which HSIs emerge constantly. Currently, roughly 10 percent of all institutions are classified as Minority Serving Institutions.

Both historically Black colleges and universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities define their membership by their mission to serve Black and American Indian students. But, the U.S. Department of Education does not define an HSI by its institutional mission, but rather its Hispanic enrollment and the income level of students. Its definition differs from that of the National Center for Education Statistics, which differs from the definition used by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

“An HSI is defined as a non-profit institution that has at least 25 percent Hispanic full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment, and of the Hispanic student enrollment, at least 50 percent are low income. Low income is defined as 150 percent of the poverty level,” states the Education Department’s definition.

That definition exists for purposes of providing grant money to institutions with growing Hispanic populations. In 1992, the federal government created the HIS classification, however, it was not until 1995 that they provided any financial support. That year, the government gave $12 million. Between 1995 and 2005, more than $550 million has been awarded to more than 185 HSIs. The current number of HSIs getting federal Title V funding is 173, according to the Education Department.

But that figure differs from the 281 HSIs claimed by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans a couple of weeks ago. They say the actual number fluctuates — so much so that now the Initiative says there are 156 HSIs. That number, which they say comes from the Education Department, is 17 fewer than the department itself claims. So just how many HSIs are there?

Turning to HACU for a definitive number doesn’t solve the riddle either. Unlike the Education Department, HACU considers a school an HSI if 25 percent of its full-time and part-time students are Hispanic. However, the total they’ve come up with — 201 — counts institutions that have joined HACU.

Which definition to use? I’m going to go with the National Center for Education Statistics. The definition it uses for IPEDS does not appear to include the low-income requirement. The latest figure reported by IPEDS is 236, but that’s for the 2003-2004 academic year. 

IPEDS data indicates that HSIs are concentrated in 12 states — including California, Texas and New Mexico — and Puerto Rico. Perhaps not surprisingly, those states have more than 85 percent of the country’s total Hispanic population, according to 2004 U.S. Census data. More than 60 percent of HSIs are located in urban cities, both mid-size and large. 

Table 2: Location of HSIs by State

Other characteristics of HSIs: Approximately 67 percent are public two-year and four-year institutions, and roughly 59 percent have open admissions policies. Only 28 percent expect a college prep completion program, compared to 41.5 percent of all other institutions. In 2005, nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic students in higher education were enrolled in HSIs.

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