By Carol Amoruso, HAV editor


“A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”  Few ad slogans have touched the American people as poignantly as that coined by the United Negro College Fund.  It’s a memorable shorthand for a mission that came to maturity during the momentous years of the Civil Rights struggle: to afford higher education to African Americans without means.  By channeling funding to black-identified colleges and universities, the United Negro College Fund has been the torch holding aloft the promise of progress and prosperity for African Americans, providing financial assistance where federal aid is not forthcoming, working within and around federally-designated Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

We’re in a new era.  Latinos, traditionally marginalized in similar ways as African Americans, left out of entitlements to well-being and educational opportunities, are, as their population blossoms, seeking those opportunities.  But, because the times are less favorable towards all social initiatives, and affirmative action all but ancient history, and because “Latino” or “Hispanic” is such a nebulous construct, Latinos have not built the same infrastructure of race/ethnicity-identified institutions with clear-cut funding conduits.  Both negotiating one’s way into the university system and securing funding can prove frustrating for a Latino.

We’ll try to smooth the road somewhat in this two-article series, the first an introduction to the sub-system of Hispanic higher ed, with a focus on the loose confraternity of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).  The second will explore what to consider in selecting a post-secondary school and whether HSIs are the surest path to funding and success.


Recognition of the needs of minorities for assistance in post-secondary education began with the Higher Education Act of 1965, implemented as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of programs in support of civil rights and economic and social upliftment.  These initiatives gave African Americans that long-neglected leg up in higher education.  Although there were sizable Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American populations at that time, the catch-all concept of “Hispanic” was barely stirring.  Then, in 1992 and again 1998, thanks to Hispanic activism, the H. E.A. was amended to take into account the evolving, inclusive Hispanic/Latino identity and soaring demographics.

Title V of the amended H.E.A. coined and then defined the term Hispanic Serving Institutions as those post-secondary schools with “an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25 percent Hispanic students.”  In addition, Title V stipulated that “not less than 50 percent of the institution’s Hispanic students [must be] low-income individuals.”

Title V’s definition of HSIs meant that schools would be designated based on numbers enrolled.  African American institutions, on the other hand, are designated for funding based on their mission (“to educate black Americans”).  Until recently, their mission integral to their enrollment, HBCUs remained overwhelmingly black, with student bodies made up of Africans from the States and the Diaspora.  Now, with recruitment and other problems, HBCUs have begun to recruit students from other minority groups.  In a curious confluence, and one that bodes well for the future, St. Phillips College, in Texas, a long-standing HBCU member school, recently gained HSI status, having opened wide its doors to the growing Hispanic population in the school’s San Antonio community.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), founded in 1986, was instrumental in the adoption of Title V and the designation of HSIs.  It serves as an advocacy organization, lobbying for increased funding in the face of the disparity between actual funding for Latino post-secondary education and the growing numbers of Latinos seeking higher education.


The U.S. government has been a lot less swift in offering assistance to the foreign born.  This session of Congress once again has on the table the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors” Act.  The DREAM Act, if passed, would facilitate access to higher education for immigrant students by allowing the individual states to offer them in-state tuition benefits in both HSIs and accredited non-HSIs.  Since the bill has come to the floor of Congress in past sessions as well, there is no sure indication that it will pass this time around.

The date may be late and the road rocky, but as the numbers of this very young population grow, we’ll be seeing more and more Latinos affirming, through educational strides, that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.


Since 2004, there’s been a new gal on the block, one that seeks to identify and thus help close achievement gaps for Latinos in higher education.  Excelencia in Education is a think tank on policy and practice with a statistical arm providing demographics critical for advocacy.  Of special value is their yearly listing and evaluation of HSI programs with success in graduating Latinos and promoting Latino leadership.  Some of the following data have been gleaned from Excelencia’s site.

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About 50% of all Hispanic students enrolled in post-secondary institutions attend HSIs where they receive the bulk of financial assistance.  There are now 236 HSIs in this country (including Puerto Rico), representing 7% of all post-secondary institutions.  Nation-wide, 48% of all Latino higher ed students are enrolled in HSIs.

Title V funding to HSIs for fiscal year 2007 is $94.9 million.  While seemingly a high figure, Latino students are the most in need of financial assistance.  In 2003-04, close to 80 percent of Latino undergraduates applied for financial aid; of those, 63 percent received some form of assistance.  Unfortunately, Latinos received the lowest average award of any racial/ethnic group, an average grant of $6,250.

Nearly half of Hispanic undergraduates (2003-2004 figures), more than from any other group, attend two-year colleges, institutions where tuition and fees are typically lower, and where, in contrast to 4-year schools, better-paying livelihoods are less likely achieved.

On the encouraging side: nearly half of all Latino undergraduates were first-generation college students.

In Part II we’ll have more on the plusses and minuses of attending a Hispanic Serving Institution, the choice between a private or publicly funded school, whether to choose a majority Hispanic institution or not, and other considerations to be weighed before deciding on a school.


Useful Web Pages


Continue to Part II of Navigating Higher Ed for Latinos: HSIs


Carol Amoruso has had several vocational callings over the years. She’s taught young children, run volunteer programs for seniors, had a catering business, designed clothes. Ultimately, she found that nothing engaged and challenged her the way writing has. She’s written every day since childhood, professionally since 1990. Her involvement in the arts, society and politics of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Latin World have been the most inspiring and her work concentrates on those areas. She travels extensively but lives in New York City. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.