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MSIs: A Good Long-term Investment for Students

051816_msiWhen it comes to national conversations about increasing access to college opportunities, minority serving institutions are often excluded from the public discussion, in part because there is so little research that focuses on their return on investment.

That’s the finding from a new report titled “Investing in Student Success: The Return on Investment (ROI) of Minority Serving Institutions” released this month by the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania.

The report builds on the scholarly work presented at a national convening focused on ROI that was held last fall by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and the Educational Testing Service.

Using empirical data, the report argues that minority serving institutions—which include Hispanic Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Asian American & Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions—have proved to be a good long-term investment for students.

“The data in this report couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Dr. Marybeth Gasman, director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania. “Many people have this false notion that MSIs are lesser institutions. Yet MSIs educate 20 percent of the nation’s college students, and the data in this report show how great of an investment they actually are.”

For example, a study by Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise and a professor of higher education at The Ohio State University, found that Black students who attended and graduated from an HBCU generally had positive returns, particularly in the areas of occupational status and Black identity. The results were mixed in terms of annual earnings and job satisfaction.

While very little research has focused on ROI for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), researchers Drs. Stella Flores, Toby Parks and Christopher Ryan sought out to examine, once a college degree was earned, whether wages differed by the type of four-year institution attended by Latinos.

“After accounting for college selectivity, there was no difference in the earnings of Hispanic graduates from HSIs and non-HSIs,” according to the report. “This finding is important, as HSIs are often criticized for low graduation rates and poor labor market outcomes.”

The report recommended additional research on ROIs and minority serving institutions and encouraged “communication across the various silos in higher education, such as policymakers, researchers, and institutional leaders.” The report also called for cultural sensitivity in data collection and analysis as well as the use of disaggregated data that considers the great diversity among students.

The authors of the report said that traditional ROI metrics overvalue economic returns and fail to take into account other educational benefits such as critical thinking skills, improved self-esteem, leadership, community engagement, and life satisfaction. Gasman said that MSIs help students cultivate these skills—perhaps with greater success than even highly selective institutions—yet mainstream ROI metrics often do not or cannot measure them.

“As MSIs continue to expand their share of enrolled postsecondary students, they will be expected to produce increasing amounts of high-quality data and information on institutional effectiveness,” said ETS Senior Vice President Dr. Michael T. Nettles. “This includes evidence about MSI graduates’ learning, preparation for the workforce, attractiveness to employers, and successful pursuit of post-baccalaureate degrees.”

For more information on the full report, visit

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson

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