In the CHAE Report (Spring 2016), Dr. Marin discusses the growing phenomenon of research universities seeking HSI designations and the potential this offers to the pipeline of Latino/a students in higher education.

Written by Michelle Allmendinger and Graham F. Hunter, doctoral students

The number and type of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) has been increasing over time as a result of the increasing enrollment of Latino/a students in colleges and universities. Assistant Professor Patricia Marin’s interest in HSIs includes a small but growing phenomenon—research universities with very high research activity (also known as Research I institutions) are adding the HSI designation to their list of classifications. Marin says that as a Latina researcher, her pursuit of this research includes an interest not only in HSIs but also in the uniqueness of research institutions becoming HSIs and the potential this offers within higher education and for the pipeline of Latino/a students. Because of her background in student affairs work, she is also interested in the roles and responsibilities HSI professionals and their institutions have to serve all students. In a forthcoming paper, currently titled Hispanic-Serving Research Institutions: Engaging Graduate Students for Campus Success, she focuses on graduate students at a research institution that is also an emerging HSI. In the paper, Marin and her co-investigator Priscilla Pereschica ask, “What are the implications of an HSI designation for graduate students at a research university?” 

Existing HSI research has focused on the impact of the designation on areas such as undergraduate college choice, experience, and success. Additional research highlights HSI characteristics and development and attempts to dispel negative perceptions about them. However, because research institutions are not the typical HSI, those institutions have not been included in HSI literature. Marin suggests the purpose of the study is “to address existing literature gaps by focusing on two intersecting areas that have been understudied in the HSI literature: a research institution with very high research activity (formerly known as Research I institutions) and the experience of its graduate students.” 

Focus group insights 

In this qualitative case study, masters and doctoral students at the institution of inquiry were invited to discuss their awareness of the institution’s HSI status and their related experience. The 45 volunteer participants, who were diverse across race/ethnicity, gender, and academic discipline, were interviewed in focus groups. Focus group questions included: “What would becoming an HSI mean for this institution? What are the responsibilities of and opportunities for the institution? How does/might HSI status impact the graduate experience?” Marin reports, “less than 1% of participants heard their institution referred to within the HSI context,” but they were quickly able to “consider the impact of the designation and related institutional issues, discussing both positive and negative potential effects.” 

Several themes emerged as a result of Marin and Pereschica’s analysis: (1) opportunities and responsibilities for the institution, (2) challenges to address, and (3) the experiences of and roles for graduate students. In discussing the opportunities and responsibilities for the institution, participants indicated the institution should be public, positive, and proud of its new HSI label and communicate that to all stakeholders. Participants also indicated they felt the HSI designation (and the increase in the Latino/a undergraduate population that led to the designation) would have educational benefits for the student body as a whole. Participants stressed, though, access and admission for Latino/a students is not enough. Institutions need to focus on retention and provide services, support and resources to increase the graduation rates of Latino/a students. Participants recognized the designation could bring some challenges as well, and they felt the institution would need to publicly address negative stereotypes about Latino/a students and the HSI designation. 

Undergraduate spillover 

Although graduate students are not included in the population that defines an institution as an HSI, participants in the study recognized ways in which they, as graduate students, could be affected by the HSI designation. First, they indicated the diversification of the undergraduate student body could have a spillover effect and lead to increased diversity in the graduate student body. Also, while they acknowledged the possibility that graduate students might need training in issues regarding HSIs, Latino/a students, and cultural competency, the participants were excited about the opportunities they might have to mentor and encourage Latino/a undergraduate students and to engage those students in research (as both participants and assistants). Participants also recognized such interactions could be beneficial to their future careers, providing them with marketable skills and experiences working with Latino/a students. 

In addition to expanding the HSI literature to include research institutions and graduate students, this study reveals how an institution’s HSI designation has an impact beyond undergraduate students and into the greater campus community. Marin suggests campus administrators should focus on the following goals in addressing their new HSI status: 

  • providing clear communication regarding HSI status, objectives, and commitment; 
  • increasing graduate student involvement; 
  • addressing the campus climate; and 
  • supporting the Latino/a educational pipeline through graduate school. 

Additionally, Marin asserts institutions should “engage and incorporate more members from their campus into the HSI process, especially graduate students.”