Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) comprise a rapidly growing population in the higher education landscape, with the number of federally-designated HSIs having grown an astounding 94 percent in the last decade.
However, due to the far-reaching implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, HSIs have had to reconsider their approaches to help this generation of Hispanic and Latinx students maintain a trajectory toward academic and
career success. On June 10th, 2021, Mentor Collective hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with representatives from HSIs to discuss how these unique institutions can emerge from the pandemic better equipped to support student success for already at-risk student groups.
Here are a few of the key takeaways from the event.
Holistic student support is critical for HSIs.
“If we learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s the need for holistic support,” said panelist Marla Franco,
assistant vice provost, HSI Initiatives at the University of Arizona. “We’re more than just institutions of learning, but we also provide students with some of the core needs and essentials, from the campus pantry providing reliable access to food sources to the ability to access mental health services.”
The digital divide is a real concern.
Many HSIs have had to help their students tackle challenges outside of direct education during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, such as unreliable or nonexistent access to the internet in a time when many classes are moving or staying online.
For context, prior to the pandemic, only 10 percent of HSI Hartnell College’s courses were offered online; for the current summer session, three-quarters of classes are online with a 50/50 split being planned for the academic year.
“[Offering classes online] is a challenge for us because one of our biggest obstacles is the digital divide—not only are we checking out laptops for our students, but hotspots as well so they can access the internet from home,” said panelist Romero Jalomo, PhD, vice president for student affairs at Hartnell College.
New HSIs need to focus both on the students and the infrastructure.
“There are dimensions of this work that are student-facing and others that are about building institutional capacity,” said Ms. Franco. “How are we preparing ourselves to be more responsive and identify structural barriers?”
As a real-world example, the University of Arizona considered their academic probation policy a few years ago; the data showed that a disproportionate number of students of color, first-generation students, and low-income students were on academic probation at the end of their first academic year.
“[The policy] wasn’t providing a scaled opportunity to support students progressively and prevent them from getting on academic probation in the first place,” said Ms. Franco.
This kind of trend exemplifies a hope for the future of HSIs from co-host Christina Gonzales, vice president for student affairs at CalPoly Pomona.
“How do we become equity-minded, culturally responsive, and asset-based, and understand the intersectional lenses our students are coming in with?” said Ms. Gonzales. “That work is hard, but I’d like us to be there [in five
years] so that any of our students, no matter how they identify, can come to our campus and know they belong and that we see their value.”