The Role of Hispanic-Serving Institutions in Strengthening the Latinx Teacher Pipeline: An Interview with Luis Maldonado and Alicia Diaz

Blog Post
Sept. 24, 2019

New America is exploring recruitment, preparation, and retention strategies that educator preparation programs, districts, and states can use to strengthen Latinx teacher pathways. To inform our work on this topic, we interviewed dozens of researchers, advocates, policy experts, and practitioners. We have selected a subset of these conversations for this blog post series.

In our fourth, and final post in this series, Luis Maldonado, until recently with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) government relations office, and Alicia Diaz, interim chief advocacy officer of HACU, explain the role that the association, and the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) it represents, can play in supporting the growth of Latinx teachers. HACU is the only national organization solely dedicated to the issues of access, retention, and success in higher education within HSIs.

For more context on this issue, see our Promoting Teacher Diversity by Strengthening Latinx Teacher Pathways blog series page and our previous post, The Demographic Mismatch Between Students and Teachers Continues to Grow, Despite Rise in Teacher Diversity.

Can you talk about the growth and evolution of Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and the role they can play in supporting the growth of Latinx teachers?

Luis: The 102nd Congress formally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in 1992 as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in order to provide additional financial support to institutions of higher education (IHEs) that prepare a significant portion of Hispanic students. This was imperative because of the low access, retention, and graduation rates Hispanic students faced when compared to white students. When Congress first funded HSIs in 1995, there were hardly 200 schools that met the 25 percent Hispanic full-time equivalent enrollment figure to qualify. As of the 2017–18 academic year there were 523 institutions that met the threshold. These institutions serve 66 percent of the more than 3.5 million undergraduate Hispanics enrolled in higher education nationwide.

A precipitously declining high school dropout rate for Hispanics is what's principally driving the increase in HSIs over the last several years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 1990, Hispanics had a high school dropout rate of about 35 percent. It is now 8 percent. Today, Hispanics almost match whites in their enrollment in college when you look at the 18 to 24 age group and are the largest growing minority group within higher education.

While this is a great success story within the Hispanic community, there is still a large discrepancy between Hispanics and whites when it comes to college completion. Raising college completion is critical to producing more Hispanic teachers since the profession requires a bachelor degree, and Hispanics have the largest demographic gap between teachers and students in the classroom of any race or ethnic group. Hispanics currently make up 25 percent of the public preK–12 school system, making us the largest minority group within the public preK–12 school system in terms of race or ethnicity—but only 9 percent of teachers are Hispanic.

Alicia: And while there's research out there that clearly demonstrates that a diverse teacher workforce positively impacts every student, we also know that Hispanic children can go through their entire preK–12 school career and never see a teacher who looks like them. And who better to motivate students to consider teaching than a teacher who reflects their background and understands them? So, we have this problem where not enough Hispanic students are completing higher education and entering the teaching profession. HACU is very interested in formally creating partnerships between preK–12 school districts and higher education to help solve this problem.

How can HSIs support Latinx students during the transition between preK–12 and higher education?

Luis: HACU is working on a plan to get to the root of that question. The association wants to build a bridge between preK–12 and higher education by amending the Higher Education Act where teacher diversity has to be an important component. This past summer Congressman Joaquin Castro introduced the Hispanic Educational Resources and Empowerment (HERE) Act of 2019, which creates a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to support collaboration between HSIs and school districts that enroll a majority of Hispanic students for the purpose of improving their educational attainment through a new set of allowable uses. Some of the proposed allowable uses include increasing academic alliances, providing academic support to prepare students for postsecondary education, and supporting eligible students through the college application and the transition process.

The nation is currently not doing enough to invest in HSIs and school districts that enroll the largest group of minority students. While HSIs enroll 66 percent of all Hispanics in higher education, HSIs also enroll more African Americans than all historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) combined, more Asian and Pacific Islanders than all Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander serving institutions (AANAPISIs) combined, and more Native Americans than all Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) combined. And while HSIs enroll 9 percent of teacher preparation students in IHE-based programs, HSIs enroll 57 percent of teacher preparation students that identify as Hispanic. By underfunding these institutions, the federal government is missing a great opportunity to leverage these institutions to diversify the teaching workforce.

And this is not just an issue that people in Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida should care about. Twenty-one states and Puerto Rico have at least one HSI. When we look at emerging HSIs—institutions with 15 percent to 24.9 percent Hispanic enrollment—34 states and the District of Columbia have at least one. In order to assess their equivalents in the preK–12 school system, HACU coined the terms Hispanic-serving school districts (HSSDs)—the 3,343 school districts with Hispanic enrollment of at least 25 percent—and emerging Hispanic-serving school districts (eHSSDs)—the 1,400 school districts that have between 15 and 24.9 percent Hispanic enrollment.

HACU developed a map of these various schools to provide a picture of the “Hispanic education footprint.” This map represents about 17 million Hispanics, from preK–12 into higher education. Only three states do not have one of those over 5,000 dots—Vermont, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. So, there is a need for more Hispanic teachers in 47 states to various degrees. And every single one of those preK–12 dots, attach, if you will, to the green and blue circles, because that's where the IHEs’ students come from. So, this tells a story and puts the issue into greater context.

How do community colleges fit into the HERE Act?

Luis: Historically, HSIs have been overwhelmingly two-year colleges, but for the last several years, the majority of HSIs have been four-year colleges and universities, even though most Hispanics still enroll in community colleges. That is an additional challenge as it relates to the preparation of teachers, because students then have to transfer to a four-year school to attain a bachelor degree to access teaching opportunities. Transferring can be a challenge because of many reasons, like the fact that not all credits transfer, and the fact that students can feel isolated on a new campus.

But there are some partnerships between two- and four-year post-secondary institutions that are helping students make the transition successfully. The University of Central Florida (UCF) is a particularly interesting example. It has a large undergraduate student body (65,000) and became an HSI in 2018. It guarantees admission to students with an associate’s degree or with an articulated degree from one of its six partner colleges and provides students with a “success coach” for support before, during, and after their transition to UCF. The HERE Act of 2019 is about bringing funding to partnerships between preK–12 school districts and HSIs, and encouraging them to happen more often, and to be more structured and more supportive of the students in those institutions.

What motivated HACU to create and push for a proposal that includes the preK–12 system?

Luis: HACU President and CEO Antonio Flores began the conversation around engagement with preK–12 because that's where our members’ students come from. Our former COO, Dr. John Moder, said it succinctly for us. He said elementary and secondary schools have their own federal law, regulations for their own funding, their own structures, their own history, and their own traditions. Higher education has its own federal law, funding, regulations, structures, and history. And the two education communities barely communicate with each other. And when students graduate from 12th grade, they are expected to figure out on their own how to navigate the higher education system. When you're a low-income and/or first-generation student that is more difficult because you typically don't have someone who has experience with that system to guide you. And we know this is overwhelmingly the case in the average Hispanic household. We need to better align our education systems and recognize the challenges in making that important jump for low-income and/or first-generation students. We believe programs under the HERE Act will help bridge that divide.

HACU created a membership category for Hispanic-serving school districts, and now they also have a seat on the governing board of the organization, which is a unique move for a higher education association. The typical complaint from higher education institutions is that high schools are not preparing students for college, but we know higher education has not historically engaged with preK–12 to help solve the problem. We see the HERE Act as an opportunity to do that in an organized and supported manner.

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on what’s new in Education Policy!

Related Topics
Diversification of the Workforce Teachers and Leaders