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The University of St. Thomas (UST) is Houston’s Catholic University, committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition and the dialogue between faith and reason. Our blog is dedicated to helping you explore your future career possibilities and how to make the most of your college experience.

What Is a Hispanic-Serving Institution? Understanding This Important Distinction

The University of St Thomas campus is situated in the heart of Houston — an international city in a highly diverse state. Of the nearly 30 million people living in the Lone Star State, 40 percent of them identify as Hispanic/Latino/Latinx, according to the latest U.S. Census. With such a large population, it makes sense that there are thousands of Latinos enrolled in colleges and universities across Texas. But not every school is classified as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which can make all the difference for students and their families.

Keep reading to learn more about what it means to be a Hispanic Serving Institution, how it benefits students from all backgrounds and why it’s an important part of our culture at the University of St. Thomas (UST).

A brief history of Hispanic Serving Institutions

Many people are unfamiliar with the HSI definition and its history. The first HSI federal grant program was funded in 1995 with the goal of increasing educational access and success for the nation’s Hispanic population. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, Title V, 2008, defines a Hispanic-Serving institution as:

“An accredited, degree-granting, public or private nonprofit institution of higher education with 25 percent or more total undergraduate Hispanic full-time equivalent student enrollment.”

One advantage of becoming an HSI is gaining access to grants from the Department of Education earmarked specifically for Hispanic students. Universities can apply for these funds, which typically are geared towards student success and retention.

The University of St. Thomas earned its HSI status in 2007. As of 2021, UST’s undergraduate student population is even more remarkably diverse:

  • 51% Hispanic/Latino/Latinx
  • 10% African American/Black
  • 12% Asian/Pacific Islander
  • 19% Caucasian/White
  • 8% Unknown

According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), HSIs are the fastest-growing higher education sector in the United States. Since 2013, HSIs have increased by an average of 29 institutions each year.

Fast facts about Hispanic-Serving Institutions

To better understand the scope and impact of Hispanic Serving Institutions in the United States, let’s explore some interesting facts compiled by Excelencia in Education, a nationally recognized authority on Latino student success in higher education.

  • HSIs represent a small segment of higher education and yet enroll the majority of Latino undergraduates. There are 559 HSIs, which represent 18% of all colleges and universities, and they enroll 66% of all Latino undergraduates.
  • Latino representation at HSIs is high. Almost half of students enrolled at HSIs (46%) are Latino.
  • While 47% of HSI students are Latino at the undergraduate level, just 16% of faculty at HSIs are Latino.
  • A majority of HSIs are four-year institutions. Overall, almost 60% of HSIs are four-year institutions (public: 28%; private: 31%), and over 40% are two-year institutions (public: 40%; private: 1%).
  • The majority of HSIs are public institutions. Overall, 68% of HSIs are public and 32% are private.

Why UST is proud to be a Hispanic Serving Institution

“As an HSI, we go above and beyond to connect with our students, their families and communities,” says Arthur Ortiz, vice president of enrollment management and student engagement at UST. “Service is really the word we focus on,” he adds. Let’s explore a few ways this ethos comes to life on campus.

1.    We engage with students and their families

Navigating the admissions and financial aid processes for the first time can be daunting for anyone. And if you’re the first person in your family to go to college and your parents can’t help you because of a language barrier, it’s even more difficult.

“We have Spanish-speaking counselors and administrators who are willing and able to engage with the students and their parents,” Ortiz says. Having an institution that understands your needs during recruitment all the way to graduation makes an enormous difference.

“As a Latino myself, I can say that oftentimes in our culture, important things — like going to college — tend to be more of a family decision,” Ortiz explains. “You really have to make it a point to include everyone in the process.”

2.    We celebrate Hispanic culture

At UST, traditions and faiths of all kinds are respected. We strive to maintain an environment where students from any background can learn from one another. Hispanic culture is integrated into our campus in countless ways, such as: cafeteria and event food, music, Spanish-language mass on Thursdays, student-led clubs and of course, celebrations.

Ortiz recounts that just this past January, “We had a dean’s list ceremony and many of our students brought their extended families to the event: parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. When they got here and saw everyone else, you can tell they feel like they belong.” He goes on to say that “Our communities are well-connected, and word gets around fast when people find something good.”

3.    We support and inspire Hispanic students

Research and lived experience suggests that students of color benefit from interacting with faculty of a similar race, ethnicity and cultural background. At UST, nearly one-third of our faculty and staff identify as Hispanic.

“For Latino students to have Latino professors is really impactful,” Ortiz shares. “Everyone needs to have role models. They don’t necessarily have to look or be just like you, but it makes it more relevant and personal.”

UST also offers Hispanic students financial support through the Rising Stars internship program. This initiative helps make college more affordable for qualified students from underprivileged backgrounds. They are matched with local corporate sponsors and gain valuable work experience while earning money for their tuition at UST.

Join the vibrant and diverse UST community

It’s clear that Hispanic-Serving Institutions are a unique kind of university dedicated to building equity and closing the opportunity gap for Latino students across the country. If you feel motivated to learn more about why you should consider attending a school like this, read our article “6 Ways Diverse Colleges Are Benefiting Today’s Students.”

Ready to take the next step?

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About UST

The University of St. Thomas (UST) is Houston’s Catholic University, committed to the religious, ethical and intellectual traditions of Catholic higher education. For more than 70 years, we’ve been graduating students like you into successful careers in medicine, education, business, public administration and more – throughout Houston and across the globe.

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