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Report: To Serve Hispanics, Schools Should Look to the Success of HSIs

By looking at the success of Hispanic-serving institutions, other colleges and universities can find ways to support the growing number of Hispanic college students nationwide, according to a report released Wednesday by the higher education policy group Excelencia in Education.

The report, “Modeling Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs): Campus Practices that Work for Latino Students,” focuses on the best access and retention practices of 12 successful HSIs, including community colleges and public universities, that are among the nation’s leaders in Hispanic enrollment and degree completion. These schools boast 25 percent or more Hispanic undergraduate enrollment.

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“What was particularly impressive was how these student-rich and resource-poor institutions have increased results for Latinos under increasingly tight economic constraints,” said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, in a statement.

The report listed eight guidelines practiced by these institutions. One guideline suggested sharing data about Hispanic students’ progress with faculty, staff and students at least once a year to encourage all parties to become engaged and active in institutional efforts.

Other colleges highlighted in the report offer courses that prepare students for college-level work, while some have even created free summer or winter immersion programs to prepare students for placement exams.

El Camino College, a community college in Torrance, Calif., for example, offers a First Year Experience class which has led to student persistence and pass rates that are 10 to 30 percent higher for enrolled students than for students who did not participate in the class, the study reports.

Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso, one of the 12 institutions singled out for recognition, said part of UTEP’s success can be credited to the university’s “heavy investment” and relationship with the K-16 schools in the region. About 83 percent of the institution’s 20,000 students are from the El Paso area. This has helped the institution build a “smooth pathway” from kindergarten onward, thus helping Hispanic students be prepared to pursue collegiate-level work, she said during a conference call to announce the report’s findings.

One of the schools that has aligned its curriculum with UTEP is also listed in the report.

The other institutions highlighted include: East Los Angeles College; California State University, Los Angeles; California State University, Dominguez Hills; CUNY-Borough of Manhattan Community College; CUNY-LaGuardia Community College; CUNY-New York City College of Technology; CUNY-Lehman College; South Texas College and the University of Texas-Pan American.

Natalicio also used the conference call as an opportunity to highlight how the report debunks claims about the success of Hispanic college students. She said that the success of these students has been tainted by how graduation rates have been reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

Natalicio said 70 percent of UTEP’s students are not factored in the federal graduation rates. Students who transferred and attended other schools prior to UTEP, for example, are considered “drop outs” and are not counted as graduates when they finish, she said.

“The impression that people have nationally is that the students are performing at a lower level — that’s not true. They aren’t being counted,” Natalicio said.

Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education and the author of the report, said serving students is critical — not just enrolling them.

Santiago said research such as the Excelencia in Education report is needed to evaluate achievement among Hispanic students and to help educators find new ways to serve Hispanic college students. She urged those concerned about the success of other students to acknowledge that if these HSIs’ policies work for Hispanic undergraduates, they will also work for other racial/ethnic groups as well.

“These students can really be trend setters in higher education,” Santiago said.

Excelencia’s Recommendations for Other Institutions:

• Create a culture of evidence. Use disaggregated data to better understand how students are performing and to inform campus initiatives.

• Share data on Hispanic students with faculty, staff, and students. The college community should know how students are performing, which will encourage stakeholders to become engaged in institutional efforts.

• Use short-term measures of academic progress to guide improvements in curricula, instruction, and support services for Hispanic students. Using short-term measures of academic progress engages faculty in the scholarship of student success and focuses their efforts to improve their own students’ achievement and their institutions’ capacity to serve students.

• Encourage and support the sharing of disaggregated student data between community colleges and baccalaureate-granting institutions. This help to establish better transfer pathways and better understanding of the barriers to Hispanic college student success.

• Provide a holistic approach to serving Hispanic students within the institution. Too often academic, support services and student life programs operate independently and may be either duplicative or ineffective.  

• Partner with other educational organizations in the community to align educational resources. Hispanic students tend to enroll in colleges in their own community, so there is a rich opportunity to align educational services in the K-16 pathway to better support students.

• Seek external sources to develop and test innovative practices while adding proven practices to the institutional budget. The 12 institutions in this study actively sought and received additional federal, state, or private support to finance their student success activities.

Apply lessons learned in improving services to Hispanics to improve services for all students. Effective practices for improving Hispanic success will likely help other students. 

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