Understanding a Hispanic Serving Institution beyond the federal definition: A qualitative analysis of Mexican American student perceptions and experiences

Christiane R Herber-Valdez, University of Texas at El Paso


The Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) has become the college of choice for significant numbers of Hispanic students in the U.S. While HSIs clearly play a key role in enrolling and graduating Hispanic college students, very little is known about the ways in which these institutions operate. How HSIs serve Hispanic students has neither been defined nor incorporated into the process of designating institutions as HSIs, which is based on the ethnic and socio-economic composition of the student body. Further complicating our understanding of HSIs is the fact that these institutions do not have historical missions to serve Hispanics. In the recent literature, questions regarding the workings of HSIs have been raised; however, empirical research on their mechanisms and effectiveness remains scarce. In order to address this current lack of understanding, this study aimed to identify the defining characteristics and functions of an HSI, through the eyes of its students. Using a Grounded Theory (GT) research design, interviews conducted with ten Mexican American students, uncovered institutional processes that did not significantly distinguish the HSI from non-HSIs. Students were, in fact, not aware of the institution's designation or role as an HSI. Overall, students did not view the institution as incorporating a Hispanic centered educational approach and instead described the institution as an HSI by default. The HSI by default is conceptualized as an institution where serving is a function of student demographics, rather than an institutional philosophy that permeates policies and practices. Application of Critical Race Theory to these results provided a race/ethnicity conscious interpretation of these findings within a historical and societal context, leading to a conclusion that challenges the HSI to provide Hispanics with an ethnic and culture specific higher education, while also adopting a larger goal of ending the educational disparity of this group.^

Subject Area

Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Administration|Hispanic American Studies|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Herber-Valdez, Christiane R, "Understanding a Hispanic Serving Institution beyond the federal definition: A qualitative analysis of Mexican American student perceptions and experiences" (2008). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3310675.