Neatly summarizing the 2014 Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) conference is a no easy task. Academics from across the nation met at the Hilton in Washington, D.C., from Wednesday to Saturday last week to discuss solutions and findings relevant to almost every imaginable topic relating to the world of higher education.
When it comes to questions of minority-serving institutions, ASHE does not miss that mark. At a panel focusing on Hispanic-serving institutions, panelists looked to the past and future of the institutions that are predominantly serving one of the fastest growing demographics in the nation.
HSIs, which are defined as institutions serving a more than student body that is 25 percent Hispanic or more, were only federally recognized in 1992. Since then, the number of HSIs has almost doubled, and is projected to continue to grow. Back in 1991-92, there were 189 HSIs. There were 370 in 2012-13.
“There’s a narrative out that HSIs underperform other institutions with respect to Latinos, that they’re not serving Latinos very well because on the whole they don’t have high graduation rates for Latinos,” said Dr. Anne-Marie Nuñez, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Texas San Antonio.
The graduation rate of first-time, full-time Latino freshmen was 41 percent in 6 years, compared to the 50 percent graduation rate for the national average, according to IPEDs and NCES data for 2011-12.
Yet that data, which looks at full-time, first-time students, may not represent the full spectrum of the Hispanic postsecondary experience. Nuñez said that simply looking at graduation rates misses other metrics of success.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 19 percent of community college students are Latino. Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick, executive vice chancellor and provost of Maricopa Community Colleges, said that the reason why so many Latinos are going to community college comes down to affordability and flexibility.
“As tuition increases, many of the universities, especially the selective universities, [are] actually pricing them out of the system. It has nothing to do in many cases with preparation or any other factor, but it is simply a matter of being able to afford it,” Harper-Marinick said, adding that Hispanic students may only be going to school part-time, as they pursue jobs or care for their families.
Harper-Marinick’s Maricopa Community College District, located in the county surrounding Phoenix, Arizona, is one of the largest community college populations in the nation, serving more than 200,000 students.
Currently, the district offers in-state tuition to DACA recipients, even though Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne brought a state lawsuit against the district in 2013. The lawsuit alleges that offering DACA recipients in-state tuition violates state law prohibiting immigrants without legal status from receiving state benefits.
“We were sued by the state for doing so, but until that gets resolved in the court we believe our interpretation of the law is the right interpretation, and we will continue to [charge] in-state tuition, until told otherwise,” Harper-Marinick said.
Emily Calderón Galdeano, director of research at Excelencia in Education, warned that the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act could have a negative impact on Title III and Title V funding ― and therefore on all MSIs.
If the reauthorization passes under a newly Republican Senate and Congress, Calderón Galdeano said, priorities may shift away from serving minorities. “Right now the [national] focus is on financial aid. There might not be as much of a focus on MSIs,” she said.