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Did you know that there are 539 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) across the United States?

In California alone, there are 176 HSIs. HSIs can be found in 25 states across the nation. If you are interested in viewing a list of HSIs, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities publishes an updated list each year.

But what does it mean when a college or university is an HSI?

HSIs are higher education institutions that are federally recognized as having at least 25% Hispanic student enrollment.  And there are all types of HSIs, including community colleges, public and private schools, and faith-based universities. Beyond the Hispanic student enrollment criteria, there is often a rich diversity of students attending HSIs, including students who are first in their family to attend college, students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and students who may come from bilingual households and/or immigrant backgrounds. This rich diversity of students adds to the unique experiences for all who attend HSIs.

What might your student experience at a Hispanic Serving Institution?

  • Culturally Enriched Curriculum and Events: It can be an affirming and engaging learning experience when you see aspects of your own cultural background represented in the topics taught by your instructors. Many instructors at HSIs are either skilled at weaving culture into the classroom or training opportunities may be available to support instructors interested in learning how to do this.  One of the most memorable college courses that I had was when the instructor had us present an aspect of our culture that greatly shaped who we were as young adults. I learned so much about myself and my classmates and the learning was so engaging.  Students might also have the opportunity to engage in events that introduce them to celebrations from cultures other than their own, such as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Diwali (Festival of Lights), Kwanzaa, and Lunar New Year just to name a few.
  • Sense of Belonging: Cultivating a sense of belonging among students to ensure they feel connected and valued is often a goal of colleges, but even more so at HSIs.  A strong sense of belonging among students often has a positive impact on their progress towards completing college, therefore, many HSIs seek intentional ways to cultivate a strong sense of belonging among their diverse students. Some strategies include honoring cultural heritage months such as Hispanic heritage month, employing diverse college instructors and staff, featuring cultural art across campus, offering culturally themed residence halls, and hosting cultural graduation celebrations that incorporate multiple languages and cultural traditions. These examples support not only diverse students to feel belonging, but they also provide diverse learning experiences for all students at HSIs.

If your student plans to attend a college or university in California, they could very well be at an HSI and may not even realize it.  Some colleges are a bit more active in sharing that they are an HSI in their communication strategies to students and families.  If your student is applying to an HSI, consider doing a quick online search to see how the college communicates this federal designation and what intentional resources and efforts exist to support the success of diverse students. You just might be surprised to learn about all that is offered.  As your student eventually prepares to enter an increasingly diverse workforce and learns how to thrive in a global society, experiencing diverse learning environments at HSIs can be a great gateway to preparing them for the future.



Dr. Marla Franco serves as the Assistant Vice Provost for Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Initiatives at the University of Arizona and is a member of the president’s senior leadership team. Her higher education career spans 20 years and two states, California and Arizona. She has championed access and equity in higher education for all students and has authored publications to further understanding of HSIs. She is a first-generation college graduate and earned her PhD in Higher Education Leadership at Azusa Pacific University.