Prospective students have many factors to consider when they are deciding what institution to attend. During this process students will often do research on the campus, location, the available courses, and the extra curricular activities available. One thing that is not always investigated however are the resources that the campus offers, and the impact that may have on a student’s collegiate experience. This paper will identify some of the common challenges Hispanic students are subjected to and attempt to show the correlation between available resources and a Hispanic student’s personal and academic success at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). The purpose of this paper is to utilize the research available on Hispanic Serving Institutions, discuss how the challenges Hispanic Students face impacts retention and graduation rates, and determine what role the institution and student affairs staff play. Postsecondary institutions serve a diverse array of populations therefore, it is crucial that students needs are well understood and accommodated for. However, historically there have been access and equity issues relating to minority populations that still are prevalent today at many institutions. Hispanic Serving Institutions, also known as HSI’s, are non-profit institutions that enroll at least 25% Hispanic students, of which 50% of them must be needs based (Murphy, 2013). Hispanic Serving Institutions must be 2- or 4-year institutions, lead to a degree, and must be accredited either regionally or by the U.S. Department of Education (Murphy, 2013). Although Hispanic Serving Institutions only make up ten percent of colleges and universities in the United States (U.S.) these institutions serve over 66% of the Hispanic student population in higher education, which makes HSI’s a vital resource for Hispanic Students. (Murphy, 2013). Furthermore, Hispanic students are the largest minority student enrolling in higher education, thus resulting in HSI’s expanding faster than any other Minority Serving Institution (Anne-Marie Núñez, Gloria Crisp, Diane Elizondo, 2016).The number of HSI’s have increased from 189 to 409 and climbing since 1994 (Núñez et al., 2016). However, despite the increase in the number of HSI’s the number of Hispanic students, graduating has not increased. The degree attainment percentage for Hispanic students is a concerning low thirteen percent, and of those degrees that have been attained, only about eight percent of them were bachelor’s degrees in 2011 (Murphy, 2013). As a result of this issue, it is crucial research is being conducted on HSI’s and that the current resources are evaluated in order to identify what improvements can be made to increase the retention and graduation rates of Hispanic students attending minority serving institutions. However before evaluating the resources that are being offered we must discuss the issues Hispanic Students are faced with so we can determine if the resources that are available address these challenges. One of the ways that I would like to discuss the challenges of being a Hispanic Student is by providing some personal experiences in addition to analyzing what the research says. According to Merisotis & McCarthy (2005) students who attend a minority institution such as an HSI typically are faced with additional challenges that their white counterparts are not faced with while attempting to obtain a postsecondary degree. Hispanic students are more likely to be low income, academically challenged, or first-generation students. Research estimates that 38% of Hispanic students come from families who are a part of the lowest socio-economic status (Merisotis & McCarthy, 2005). Family resources have been found to impact the quality of education a student receives and effects the educational performance of low-income students. Furthermore, students who come from low socioeconomic background are reportedly more likely to feel as if they are Guinea pigs for their family members or are more likely to have to convince their parents or family members to let them leave for college due to financial concerns (Adjouadi, Alo, Beheshti, Fernandez, Gates, Hug, Rodriguez, Thiry, 2011). Although I have been lucky to have been raised in a Hispanic middle class family, my mom was raised in extreme poverty since her parents had immigrated to the U.S. only a few years before she was born. My mom has told me stories throughout my life about how although her parents valued education that they felt that she was being selfish by leaving to the Army, which is how she was able to pay for her associates degree. On the contrary students who come from families with more resources are often higher educated and likely to make more money. Financial status can contribute to what institutions a student has access to, the quality of their experience, and the stress levels that the student experiences. According to a study by Noga O’Connor (2009) children of more educated parents outperform those whose parents are less educated. I feel that I am proof that this statement is unfortunately true. I am the child of two nurses who make enough money that I grew up on the good side of town and went to the best schools available growing up. I also have always done well academically and I think it has a lot to do with the time that my mom took to take me to story time, help me with homework, and how involved in the classroom my mom was. My mom was able to do all of these things to help my education because she has a job that has allowed her to do so. Another common identity that can at times be a barrier for Hispanic students is first generation status. First generation students are more likely to come from working class backgrounds since they come from families with parents who have not obtained a college degree which often means they have fewer resources to assist them personally and academically. As a result, first generation students often will work one or more jobs in order to be able to afford college expenses and have less time to devote to academics (Stephens et. al, 2012). Despite these obstacles, studies have found that Hispanic parents place a high value on education, however the struggles of work, and family financial obligations often outweigh educational support (Gates et al., 2011). Another issue Stephens et. al (2012) explores is that first generation students typically have attended low quality high schools that result in a less smooth transition to college. Although, I personally have parents who have associates degrees my parents especially my mom was not able to support me through my transition from high school to college because they did not have the knowledge to do so. I was lucky that I had taken A.P. classes and had friends with educated parents to rely on, and that once I knew what I was supposed to do that my parents could afford to help. However, most true first generation students do not have access to assistance like myself. (Challenges with Academics)Another common issue within HSI’s is the lack of a sense of belonging. Despite the fact that Hispanic students are the largest minority population enrolled in higher education, the data suggests that more than 50% of Hispanic students take a break from school, or withdraw completely (Murphy, 2013). According to Medina and Posadas (2012) HSI campuses are not welcoming or inclusive enough, mentors are not well equipped, and administrators are not knowledgeable or insightful enough to help Hispanic students in the ways that they need. Many Hispanic students fear, or have dealt with different forms of racism, micro-aggression, and discrimination throughout their time in higher education (Cramer et al., 2015). These issues paired with the lack of representation in faculty/staff, and outside responsibilities and commitments such as family, are some of the reasons Hispanic students are unable to successfully attain a degree (Cramer et al., 2015). Increasing the number of resources that are available at HSI’s could potentially combat some of the issues that Hispanic students face and help them ultimately succeed. By analyzing the literature and getting to know Hispanic students personally, higher education professionals can educate themselves on common issues students face, develop effective ways to address these issues and be an advocate for these students. However, at this time the research suggests that there are multiple areas that HSI’s are not providing adequate support to Hispanic students enrolled at HSI’s. The research I found on the topic was not surprising to me based on my experiences at an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution. I did not understand that I was at an HSI until a few months into the semester. Some of the reasons I did not know that I was attending an HSI was that I have not seen a lot of effort being made to serve Hispanic students. When you walk around campus you will notice that all of the signs are all monolingual. I have not seen any signs that are written in anything other than English which means when students and their families come to campus they are going to have the same experience as an English speaking student and their family would have. I know when I walked around campus for the first time I looked around and felt like I belonged here, and that may not be a feeling that a Hispanic student would get when they are not being represented on campus or provided access to resources because they do not know where to go for them. One way that the university could implement a positive change would be making sure that directional signage is multilingual so that these students are able to find things just as easily as everybody else. Additionally, in my experiences we are not offering multilingual forms either, well at least not in every department. Throughout the process of transitioning from secondary education, to post-secondary education students are expected to read and sign several forms stating that they understand the information provided and agree to adhere to the guidelines set by the document. However, many times English is not a Hispanic student’s first language and they may be faced with additional stress that a native English speaker would not. The students may not fully be able to understand what the document is stating and may feel uncomfortable asking for help from staff. The addition of bilingual forms, particularly in Spanish for HSI’s, would lend greatly to the sense of belonging that a student needs in order to continue their collegiate journey. For example, before students move into the residence hall they sign a housing contract that is strictly in English, however if that were to change there would be a greatly likelihood that students would be more aware of the housing policies because they are able to understand the contract fully. Another example, is on move in day when staff give families a parent packet that is supposed to provide them with resources, well that only works if the parent knows English because the forms are only printed in English. Lastly, universities are not offering students the same experiences when it comes to orientation sessions. The university is disseminating the information the same way to all, but that does not mean that they are successfully communicating. Since the institution is aware they have a large Hispanic student population they should be offering sessions in Spanish or at the very least ensuring that staff who fluently speak Spanish are present and able to answer questions that these students or their families may have. An example of a time that this would be helpful is during move in day, when housing staff offer a parent talk. The parent talk is a small group setting where parents can ask housing staff questions, and ultimately feel safe in leaving their students for the year. However currently this session is only accessible for those who speak English. One of the things that I have seen done that is helpful is having staff wearing name tags that indicate if they speak Spanish, that way the student and their family does not have to ask multiple people before finding someone who can help them. On move in day I saw my one student staff member who speaks Spanish help multiple people in a way that nobody else could. In conclusion Hispanic Serving Institutions are crucial to the advancement of diversity and the success of Hispanic students in higher education which is why additional resources need to be provided to best serve this population of students. From my own experiences I can attest that Hispanic Serving Institutions may not be providing students with enough resources to retain and successfully assist Hispanic students in graduating. It is important to not only acknowledge the positive impact of HSI’s, but to also highlight some of the faults within the field in order to improve not only the graduation attainment percentages of Hispanic students, but to improve their day to day experiences as well.
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