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Hispanic-serving universities provide most economic mobility, report says

The schools that have at least 25 percent Hispanic students offer quicker returns on their students’ investments and enroll less affluent students, data shows. 
California State Univeristy, Los Angeles commencement ceremony.
A civil engineering graduate at this year's commencement ceremony at California State University, Los Angeles, on May 23. Brittany Murray / MediaNews Group via Getty Images

A number of colleges and universities whose student populations are at least a quarter Hispanic have been the most successful in providing students with economic mobility, according to a report from the Third Way, a Washington-based think tank. 

The report was the subject of discussion during a panel hosted Tuesday by the Latina-led nonprofit Excelencia in Education, which measures and analyzes best practices to boost Latino college completion.

Campus leaders from three schools in the report discussed the important function that Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs) can serve in jump-starting the professional and financial success of Latino students. Hispanic-serving institutions are defined by the Department of Education as schools with an enrollment of at least 25 percent full-time undergraduate students. 

Nicole Siegel, deputy director of education at Third Way, whose goal is to develop a “high-quality education agenda,” said during the event that despite recent changes to the methodologies of some college rankings, characteristics such as “selectivity” and “historical prestige” have stayed more influential than what she sees as a better metric: student outcomes. 

“If the primary purpose of postsecondary education is supposed to be to catalyze an increase in economic mobility for students, we need to elevate the schools that are actually succeeding in this goal,” Siegel said. 

The schools with the best economic mobility outcomes in the Third Way report are mainly concentrated in California, Texas and New York — all states with relatively significant state funding allocations for public higher education. According to Excelencia in Education, these schools offer beneficial outcomes for their students by offering them a speedier return on their investment than other institutions and by enrolling less affluent students. 

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which ranks fourth in the report, enrolls more than 62 percent of students who are eligible for Pell grants, a financial need-based scholarship awarded to undergraduates by the federal government. The university also recently expanded its “tuition advantage grant” for the upcoming fall to cover the costs of tuition and mandatory fees for students with family incomes of up to $125,000. 

Magdalena Hinojosa, senior vice president for strategic enrollment and student affairs at Texas Rio Grande, said the Third Way report provides a way of “looking at our institutions in a different way” and “bringing to light who we are as institutions.” 

“You don’t have to be what is known as a traditional elite institution to really have successful students,” Hinojosa said. 

There are 559 HSIs in the U.S. — most of which are public — representing 18 percent of all higher education institutions. HSIs enroll two-thirds of all undergraduate Latino students, according to the latest estimates from Excelencia in Education. Amid enrollment declines in Hispanic students and the fallout from the pandemic, the number of Hispanic-serving institutions declined in 2019 for the first time in two decades, by 10 schools. 

A focus of the panel and the Third Way report was to “look more overtly at institutions that are disproportionately carrying the weight of providing value add,” said Deborah Santiago, chief executive of Excelencia in Education. 

“We focus a lot more on institutions, not just because of demography and geography, but intentionality and impact,” Santiago said on Tuesday. “What are they doing to make sure the students are served and served well?”

Six of the top 10 schools cited in the report as providing the greatest degree of economic mobility to their students reside in the California State University system, with the Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills campuses notching the top two spots. 

Alam Hasson, interim vice provost at CSU-Fresno, which ranked seventh in the report, said during the panel that economic mobility is “in the DNA of the California State University system.”

“It’s really about the alumni that tell our story the best, and the impact that the education they’ve had here has had on them,” Hasson said. “That’s really what we rely on to tell our story.”

Lehman College, a public college in the Bronx that is part of the City University of New York, has seen increased demand in certain academic disciplines, highlighting the school’s ability to funnel students into well-paying jobs in those fields after graduation, according to President Fernando Delgado, who also spoke on the panel. The school’s nursing program “continues to just burst at the seams,” he said, along with rising interest in STEM fields. 

“Many of our students struggle with making decisions about food, school and travel,” he said. “This is a tough environment for those students to attend, and so for them to understand that their investment, their time and their resources and their talent to get to college will lead to social and economic mobility, is key.”

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