Why An HSI: Top Reasons Students Choose Hispanic Serving Institutions | Teachers College Columbia University

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Why An HSI: Top Reasons Students Choose Hispanic Serving Institutions

Every student has a rationale for applying to and ultimately attending their college of choice.  Some students choose state schools because they want a great football experience. Others want a more personal experience; therefore, they chose small private schools. Many Hispanic students in the United States ultimately make the decision to attend Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). HSIs are defined as two-year and four-year colleges in which 25% or more of the undergraduates identify as Hispanic. While the number of students enrolled in HSIs grows every year, not much research has been aimed at understanding what factors influence the decision to attend these institutions. Past studies have shown that Latino students enrolled in HSIs are more engaged in school and have a higher overall educational attainment, especially in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Understanding why students choose HSIs can give school and district leaders insight into student decision-making, and consequently, student achievement. To bridge this gap in research, Anne-Marie Núñez (The Ohio State University) and Alex J. Bowers (Teachers College, Columbia University) (formerly both at the University of Texas at San Antonio: UTSA) examined the individual and organizational factors that predict high school students’ enrollment in 2-year and 4-year HSIs.

To complete this study, the researchers used data from the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2002 and 2006. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and its primary duty is to collect and analyze education data. In 2002, NCES distributed questionnaires to over sixteen thousand tenth graders to assess their attitudes, achievement, and motivations within the context of education. They then followed up with these same students four years later in 2006. This data set is generalizable and can therefore be seen as representative of the entire population of US students who were in tenth grade during that school year.

To analyze the ELS data, Núñez and Bowers employed a two-level hierarchical linear model with level 1 containing the student level variables and level 2 containing the school level variables. They ran this model twice, once for 2-year HSI attendance and once for 4-year HSI attendance. They were interested in understanding two main things: First, what differences are there between students who enroll in HSIs and students who do not. Second, they were interested in learning what differences there are between students who enroll in HSIs and students who enroll in colleges that are not Hispanic serving.

 It is important to note that while HSIs only make up 6% of the colleges in the US, they enroll almost 50% of college going Hispanic students. Additionally, Hispanic HSI students tend to outperform other Hispanic students in a variety of academic disciplines. Therefore, the findings of this study can provide valuable insights on student decision making how it leads to academic outcomes. In this study, the researchers found that high schools that have more Hispanic teachers and are located in the western region of the US tended to send a higher proportion of students to HSIs. In contrast, higher math standardized test scores, public high school attendance, and being a first-generation immigrant were all associated with not attending an HSI.

The researchers first ran the model for 2-year HSI enrollment. One significant finding was that attending high school in the Midwest predicted lower enrollment in 2-year Hispanic serving institutions. The researchers believe this is caused by HSI attendance being motivated by the desire to remain close to home. The Midwest does not house many institutions that are defined as Hispanic serving. Another significant finding was that high schools with a higher percentage of Hispanic teachers or more minority students were more likely to send their students to HSIs. This is believed to be because of social capital: these students were more informed about HSIs through their relationships with peers and teachers. On a smaller scale, it was also found that higher student to teacher ratios in high school was associated with higher 2-year HSI attendance. This is valuable information because 2-year HSIs tend to send more Hispanic students to 4-year institutions than 2-year non-HSIs.  Therefore, understanding how high schools affect 2-year HSI attendance will ultimately lead to understanding student attainment.

The researchers discovered much more about the decision to attend 4-year Hispanic Serving Institutions. Students that attend western high schools are more likely to attend 4-year HSIs, which is believed to be because students valued living close to home to both save money and utilize family support. This is the same reason 2-year HSI attendance is lower in the Midwest.  For 4-year colleges, higher math standardized test scores or being a first-generation immigrant both predicted non-HSI attendance. This is believed to be because these students valued selectivity in colleges, and non-HSIs tend to be more selective than HSIs.

But why is this study important? Past research has shown that HSIs award a higher number of STEM degrees to Hispanic students than non-HSIs despite HSI students having lower math preparation in high school. This is evidence that HSIs are more likely to develop talent even considering their limited resources. With this in mind, the findings in the current study can be valuable for high school leadership to aid them in understanding how their schools’ policies and allocation of resources are related to attendance at HSIs. Unfortunately, this research only studied choices of recent high school students and did not include older and nontraditional students. This is a topic that could warrant more research and consideration to paint a clearer picture on HSI enrollment.


The full story is in Nuñez, A.M., Bowers, A.J. (2011) Exploring What Leads High School Students to Enroll in Hispanic-Serving Institutions: A multilevel analysis.  American Educational Research Journal, 48(6), 1286-1313.  Preprint: http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac:186650