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As more Latinos go to college, will schools increase to serve them?

This story about Hispanic-Serving Institutions was produced by The Hechinger Report ] an independent nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Subscribe to receive the Hechinger newsletter .

By Delece Smith-Barrow, The Hechinger Report

ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida was opened during the civil rights movement, and since the In principle, school leaders made racial diversity a priority. In 1969, the school established a union of black students. In 1970, he developed an affirmative action strategy. Now UCF is on a new mission to excel in the enrollment, education and graduation of Latino students, and nothing better summarizes its new diversity goal than the phrase on the T-shirts that appear on the front of your bookstore: "Vamos Caballeros ! "

The school is increasing its resources for Latinos, organizing round tables for undocumented immigrant students and offering workshops on topics such as" Latinidad y LGBTQ + ". After Hurricane Maria, he welcomed the displaced Puerto Ricans and gave them a rest status from registration.

Like hundreds of universities across the country, the Hispanic population at the University of Central Florida has grown from 21.6 percent in the fall of 2014 to 26 percent today. Nationally, enrollment in the Hispanic university increased from 8 to 19 percent of all students between 1996 and 2016, according to the US Census Bureau. Cyndia Muñiz, assistant director of initiatives for services for Hispanics at UCF, said her institution has embraced growth. "We want to be an example of what it means to be an institution at the service of Hispanics, if not the example," he said.

There are incentives to do it. Any school with at least 25 percent Hispanic enrollment can apply to be federally recognized as a service institution for Hispanics, a label that may qualify for federal grants. UCF met that enrollment threshold in the 2017-18 school year. He is expected to be on the list of schools serving Hispanics in the Department of Education by the end of 2018, Muñiz said.

During the 1995-96 school year, there were only 131 schools that fit the definition of a college or university that serves Hispanics. For 2016-17, there were 492, ranging from well-known four-year schools like the University of California at Irvine to two-year regional schools like Essex County University in New Jersey. According to estimates of Excellence in Education, an organization that advocates for Latinos in higher education, almost two-thirds of Latino students attend institutions that serve Hispanics. But the federal budget for HSI is not kept up-to-date, leaving many schools out of the race to obtain one of the coveted and competitive federal grants.

And soon, there will be many more of these schools. In 2016-17, there were 333 colleges and universities in the process of becoming Hispanic, what Excellence calls emerging HSIs. Schools have between 15 and 24.9 percent Latino enrollment.

Many colleges and universities are eager for the Hispanic Service Institution label. Beyond the possible subsidy of dollars, the fact of being identified as "serving Hispanics" makes them more attractive to minority students, since schools compete energetically for the decrease in the number of undergraduate students. But the defenders say that the label can be hollow. This is because the Department of Education does not analyze what services or programs a university offers to these students, only their numbers.

"As more and more institutions reach the enrollment threshold, we have to raise standards and expectations of what it really is to serve our students," said Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excellence in Education, at an event in Washington, DC in September.

Related: More Hispanics go to college. The bad news? They are still behind

One measure of how well a school serves its students is the graduation rate. Latino students in institutions serving Hispanics generally have higher graduation rates than Latino students in non-HSI institutions, according to a December 2017 report from The Education Trust, a non-profit organization that advocates for low-income students . For example, Latino students who scored a SAT in the range of 1,000 and attended a Hispanic service institution had a six-year graduation rate of 51 percent. Those who attended a non-HSI program had a graduation rate of 46 percent.

Photo: Delece Smith-Barrow / The Hechinger report

"We have to raise standards and expectations of what it is really to serve our students," said Deborah Santiago, co-founder of Excellence in Education.

However, several institutions on the list of institutions that serve Hispanics have large gaps in graduation rates among their white and Hispanic students. For example, at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, the six-year graduation rate for Latino students pursuing a bachelor's degree is 20 percent, but for all students it is 43 percent and for whites it is 46 percent, according to an analysis by Hechinger.

"Despite their growth, HSI has been criticized only for being 'enrolled in Hispanics', which means that they enroll a large percentage of Latino students but do not necessarily produce equitable results," wrote Gina Garcia, an assistant professor at the University. University of Pittsburgh, in the Review of Higher Education in 2016. "Focusing solely on enrollment and graduation rates creates a limited understanding of what it means to have an identity to serve Latino students."

At the Oklahoma State Panhandle University (OPSU), the recent increase in enrollment of Latino students is a reflection of the demographic changes in the Panhandle region. Hispanics are more than 50 percent of those under 44 in Texas County, where the university is located, according to a report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

OPSU was recognized as a service institution for Hispanics in February 2018, and the administration says it is trying to serve its Latino students. The university is a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and students participate in the group's internship program, which serves as a channel for more Latinos to enter the federal workforce. The director of Hispanic student services, Teri Mora, regularly accompanies the members of the group of students of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization to the conference of the Hispanic Leadership Institute of the United States. OPSU students also won the National Hispanic College Quiz in 2015 and 2017. This year, the university started a group of alumni for Latino students to strengthen engagement with graduates.

But he acknowledges that his graduation rates for Latino students are far from stellar.

Related: Many emblematic universities in the state leave black and Latino students behind

The university needs more resources, says Ryan Blanton, vice president of outreach. Oklahoma has cut allocations for higher education. Funding per student was reduced by more than 30 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to the Center for Budgetary Priorities and Policy, an independent research institution that examines how to reduce poverty and inequality.

Becoming an HSI was instrumental in finding resources to help the university close the graduation gap, says Blanton. "That allows us to go after federal programs specifically designed to increase graduation rates and better support Hispanic students in higher education."

Nancy Meléndez, member of the student senate of the OPSU and of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization, believes that the HSI designation of the school will have a positive effect. "It's definitely an improvement not only for us, but I believe that, for all minorities, we are creating greater diversity," said Meléndez, a person over 26 years old from Mexico. "Not only are we growing in numbers, but we are improving ourselves."

Forging an identity is part of the challenge of being Hispanic in service not only in name but also in practice. Unlike historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), the best-known category of minority-serving institutions, schools that serve Hispanics were not created for the sole purpose of educating minority students. The HBCU began in the 19th century because African-Americans were initially prohibited from enrolling in white universities. Historically, black schools are known to have curricula, teachers and student groups that focus on black culture, and have been largely run by African-Americans since their incarnation. The term institution that serves Hispanics was not created until the early 1990s, and receiving this designation does not mean that a school is imbued with Latino culture or curriculum.

The learning environment in schools that serve Hispanics varies widely. In some, such as the University of California, Irvine and the International University of Florida, students can obtain a degree in Spanish. In others, such as Oklahoma Panhandle State University and Massachusetts' Cambridge College, students do not have this option. An analysis of the Hechinger Report revealed that in some schools, such as the University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, more than 30 percent of teachers are Latino. In others, such as Mount Saint Mary University in California, less than 10 percent of teachers are Latino. On average, about 21 percent of professors at Hispanic Service Institutions identify themselves as Latinos, according to a 2015 report from New America, a group of experts that leans to the left. According to a 2013 report from the Center for Minority Service Institutions of the University of Pennsylvania, at the HBCU, about 57 percent of teachers identify themselves as black.

] Currently, any school that meets the definition of an HSI can apply for certain grants, such as the Title V grant and the Title III Part F grant, administered by the US Department of Education. UU Periods of years. Grants allow Hispanic service institutions to expand resources for Latino students. Part F of Title III helps Latinos and low-income students who want a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, and the average grant amount is $ 775,000. Many applications for Title V Grants are north of $ 2 million.

But many of the schools that apply get zero dollars, and advocates fear that the growing number of institutions will quickly drain the fund of funds from Congress. In fiscal year 2015, the last year for which the Department of Education has data, Congress allocated more than $ 100 billion for Title V. For Title III Part F – the STEM grant – the allocation was almost $ 95 million in 2013.

Related: How not to get more Hispanics into college could reduce the income of all Americans

"There is still a big gap, because the amount of HSI continues to grow more rapidly each year than the amount of dollars coming from Congress, "said Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. who has pushed to get more federal money for these grants. "Only half or less of all HSIs get any subsidy in a given year because there is not enough money for everyone."

As the number of institutions that serve Hispanics increases, "it has more competition," Flores said.

The label is more "sexy" now, says Santiago de Excelencia, due to the potential of federal grants, but its broad definition does not always motivate schools to do the hard work of serving. That's one more reason to make the designation more meaningful: "We've seen institutions that say they look … I'm an HSI because of my demographics," Santiago said. "I'm not necessarily an HSI where I have that definition because of my intentionality and my impact."

Excellence is an organization that is trying to help schools fulfill their mission and increase the number of Latino college graduates.

On October 11, Excellence announced the Seal of Excellence, a voluntary certification that institutions can request. The seal will highlight schools that go above and beyond to help Latino students excel.

"The Seal of Excellence is a way to codify what it really means to serve Latino students, not just enroll them," said Santiago. "The seal is critical because we need to find ways to recognize what it means to serve these students well."

Santiago anticipates that, initially, 20 schools will receive the seal. Those who request but do not receive a seal can participate in a "commitment ladder … a way to gather technical assistance around data, practice and leadership, which are the three pillars of the Seal of Excellence, for institutions that want to do a better job. " The assistance will include the improvement of study plans and the hiring of professors, in addition to reinforcing other practices to promote the enrollment of Latino students, academic performance and graduation rates.

"We believe that there must be more to differentiate or better understand institutions that are taking seriously their commitment to the students who are enrolling and helping them to persist and complete," said Santiago.

Even at the University of Central Florida, students say there is work to be done. Jennifer Tirado, a native of Puerto Rico, came to UCF just after high school, shortly after her family moved to Florida. In its first months on campus, the presence of Latin culture left something to be desired.

The 21-year-old student remembers just one campus restaurant that specialized in Latin food, Cafe Bustelo, when she arrived. Now there are also Tropical Chicken and Crazy Gringos. More substantially, last year the students formed the Puerto Rican Student Association, and now Tirado is its president.

She says the fact that the University of Central Florida is a service institution for Hispanics is important. "It also means that the university cares about the Hispanic population."

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