This article is published in the 2015 I’m First Guide to College

Hispanic-Serving Institutions

This concentration of Hispanic enrollment gave way to a federal program designed to support colleges and universities in the United States that assist first-generation, majority low-income Hispanic students, now known as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs).

What are HSIs?

What defines HSIs is not necessarily their mission, but their Hispanic enrollment. Unlike HBCUs and women’s colleges, most HSIs were not founded with the purpose of primarily serving a specific demographic.

In 1992, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) took the lead in lobbying Congress for official recognition and federal funding for institutions of higher education with large Hispanic populations. That year HSIs were defined under federal law as accredited and degree-granting public or private nonprofit institutions of higher education with 25{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72} or more total undergraduate Hispanic enrollment. Additionally, a minimum of 50{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72} of the Hispanic students attending HSIs must be from low-income backgrounds.

In 1995, Congress appropriated $12 million in grants to HSIs under the Higher Education Act. Federal funding for HSIs from the Department of Education has increased sharply since then, with $117.4 million being appropriated in 2010. These grants are used for the development and improvement of academic programs, endowment funds, academic tutoring, counseling programs, student support services and more. The continual increase in government funding demonstrates a growing dedication to the advancement of higher education for Hispanic students.

Why choose an HSI?

In addition to the benefits afforded by government grants, there are many reasons why prospective college students choose to attend HSIs. Most are located in areas with large Hispanic populations such as California, Texas and New Mexico. The proximity of HSIs to these areas facilitates the transition to college life for many Hispanic students, who are able to attend an HSI close to home. HSIs also have lower tuitions, on average, than non-HSI institutions of a similar caliber.

Making a Decision

With the growing Hispanic college-age population in the United States, more and more colleges and universities are becoming HSIs by virtue of their increased Hispanic enrollment. An ever-increasing group of schools are known as “emerging HSIs,” meaning that between 15 and 24 percent of their respective student populations are Hispanic. When choosing a college or university, don’t write off a school for not being an HSI now; it might be in a couple of years.

Ultimately it is good to keep in mind that HSIs are, their large Hispanic populations notwithstanding, regular institutions designed to serve students from all ethnicities and walks of life. Just because you may not be Hispanic or low-income does not necessarily mean an HSI is not right for you; on the flip side, don’t limit yourself to attending an HSI just because you fall within the target demographic.

Because there is no official list of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), the list reflects members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). Visit HACU at to learn more.