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High Country News

Hispanic-serving colleges and universities struggle to adapt to the pandemic

‘Government support is going to be vital.’

Northern New Mexico College in Española, serves a population of 67 percent Latino students. | Minesh Bacrania/High Country News

As COVID-19 spreads across the U.S., the West’s institutions of higher education are racing to adapt, from moving classes online to closing dorms and reimbursing students for housing and dining.

But not all schools have the resources to respond. Minority-serving institutions, or MSIs, which enroll significant proportions of non-white students, can be crucial gateways to the middle class for students of color. According to research by the American Council on Education, MSI students have higher economic mobility rates than non-MSI students. This means that students from the lowest-income families are more likely to attain above-average incomes if they attend MSIs. But the pandemic is increasing the strain on already-overstretched institutional budgets.

Hispanic-serving institutions, or HSIs, whose student bodies range from 25% Latino to more than 90% Latino, were scrambling for equitable federal funding well before the pandemic. According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU, for every dollar in federal funding that non-HSI schools receive, HSIs get just 68 cents. Meanwhile, more Latinos are attending college than ever, with a majority attending HSIs. Approximately 45% of the nation’s HSIs are in the Western United States, with a third of all HSIs in California alone.

On March 27, Congress approved an emergency spending bill for COVID-19 aid that includes almost $31 billion for the Department of Education. The funding takes into account how many need-based Pell Grant recipients attend each school and gives the schools broad discretion in deciding how to spend the money, from improving remote learning systems to helping out students in need. HACU estimates that approximately 0.69% (some $214 million) of the allocation is designated specifically for HSIs.

Antonio R. Flores has been president of HACU for more than 20 years. After attending college in Mexico (“I guess it was an HSI,” he joked), he attended graduate school in Michigan. Today, even as he adjusts to working remotely, Flores is urging Congress to provide more funding for HSIs in response to COVID-19.

High Country News recently spoke with Flores about the unique challenges that HSIs face during this pandemic. Read the interview here: https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.5/covid19-hispanic-serving-colleges-and-universities-struggle-to-adapt-to-the-pandemic

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