Why aren’t there more Hispanic Serving Institutions in Pennsylvania? | OP-ED
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I still don’t have a concrete answer to the question I put as a headline. However, I want to share with you some facts that might give us a clue as to the current situation of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) in the state of Pennsylvania.
Before delving into the topic, it is important to know what an HSI is. By definition, an HSI is an institution of higher education whose enrollment is at least 25 % full-time Hispanic. So far, it all appears to be a fairly friendly and straightforward process. But the reality is that being an HSI goes beyond enrolling a particular percentage of Hispanic students. When an institution is designated as an HSI by the U.S. Department of Education, it becomes eligible to receive federal grants under the Title III and Title V programs established by the Higher Education Act of 1965.
And why is this fact important? Because when a university or college receives federal funds available under the HSI category, it is able to enrich its academic offerings, elevate the learning experience of millions of Hispanic and Latino students and guarantee them a professional future.
But the problem lies in the fact that not all eligible institutions of higher education are able to apply for federal funds for a variety of reasons. In the case of Pennsylvania, the only three existing HSI (Lehigh Carbon Community College, Northampton County Area Community College and Reading Area Community College) were not able to apply for federal grants in recent years. As they confirmed to AL DÍA, this is because they missed the date to apply or because the type of grant available did not match their academic focus.
“We are eligible as HSI, but we have not yet completed the grant application”, Northampton Community College President Dr. David A. Ruth told this newspaper.
As established by the Department of Education, institutions can use the funds for the purchase of scientific equipment, construction or renovation of teaching facilities, faculty development and training, purchase of educational materials, and offer tutoring programs, academic advising, academic distance learning, and student support services.
However, in order for institutions to apply for the funds and obtain these benefits, they need to demonstrate that at least 50 % of their enrolled Hispanic students are low-income, also known as “needy students”. Another variable for determining eligibility is the base cost per full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE).
Besides, each grant has its own application procedure and, annually, institutions must reapply for accreditation as HSI. For Dr. Ruth, this is often “a rigorous process that involves input from many areas of an institution”.
What the statistics say
By fall 2020, some 4.2 million students were enrolled in an HSI. In addition, Excelencia in Education counted a total of 559 HSI located in 29 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. California and Texas were the states with the highest number of HSI, after Puerto Rico. However, it is surprising that in the state of Pennsylvania, where there were close to one million Hispanic people by 2020, according to CENSUS, there are only three institutions designated as HIS, and none of them located in the city of Philadelphia, known internationally for its renowned universities.
While interviewing the only three existing HSI in PA, I found that many of them had questions about the processes to be followed and the actual benefits that the designation can bring to the higher education institutions and their student enrollment. Besides, most institutions showed some degree of difficulty in applying for grants available under Title III and Title V programs.
Against this ambiguous context, I wonder what would happen if PA colleges and universities were more proactive in directing their programs toward diversity, inclusion and equity. Would the number of Latinos enrolled increase? Would we have more Hispanic graduates? Would there be greater representation among faculty and academics? Would we have more Latino professionals practicing in other fields? Would there be an increase in universities focused on biculturalism and bilingualism? Would we stop being labeled as “minorities” and finally become the majority? Is this the step we must take to transform the future of higher education? The answers remain to be seen.