Creating Equity by Design at Hispanic Serving Institutions

Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, Associate Director for Research and Policy
Estela Mara Bensimon, Professor and Co-Director
Center for Urban Education
University of Southern California

Over the more than 20 years that the HSI designation has existed, many scholars, advocates, and institutional leaders have offered their views on what makes an institution truly Hispanic-Serving—beyond the number and proportion of Latino/a students enrolled. While scholars and advocates have weighed in on the meaning of “Hispanic-Serving,” it is critically important that faculty and staff at HSIs also engage in meaningful, ongoing dialogue about what it means to serve Latino/a students at their institution, in a way that is appropriate for their institutional mission and context. While we advocate that practitioners construct a definition of what it means to be “Hispanic-Serving” within their local context, there are underlying principles that can facilitate these much-needed conversations across the nation’s HSIs.

In Spring 2015, we authored a policy brief for the Perspectivas series entitled, Design Principles for Equity and Excellence at Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Sponsored the Association for Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the brief outlines five organizing principles of practice that can be used by HSIs to guide their efforts to effectively serve Latina/o students:  

Principle 1. Hispanic-Serving designation is reflected in the institutional identity, mission, and priorities, as well as in the goals of campus divisions, departments, and units.

Principle 2. Latino/a student success is a shared value among institutional leadership, faculty, and staff.

Principle 3. Examining equity in educational outcomes for Latino/a students is central to institutional assessment processes and practices.

Principle 4. Promoting Latino/a student success and ensuring equity in outcomes requires ongoing reflection and action by institutional leadership and individual practitioners.

Principle 5. Engaging Latino/a students with culturally sustaining practices is central to promoting and supporting Latino/a student success.

The above principles stem from our work in the Center for Urban Education (CUE), and are rooted in theories of organizations, learning, and practice. We were motivated to offer HSIs specific guidance for creating equity by design, due in large part to our belief that truly serving Latino students requires intentional action by institutional leadership, faculty, and staff.

We certainly are not the first to point out that providing access to Latino/a students does not translate into educational equity for Latino/a students. Excelencia in Education, along with educational advocacy organizations and many scholars have made similar observations and arguments. CUE has even demonstrated this empirically.  Our previous analyses of postsecondary educational outcome data at the institutional, state, and national levels have revealed that at many HSIs and emerging HSIs, Latinos/as experience inequities across a range of metrics. Whether it’s a Hispanic-Serving community college that does not progress Latino/a students through the basic skills math course sequence as effectively as it does White students, a Hispanic-Serving university at which Latinos/as are underrepresented among science and math degree earners, or an emerging Hispanic-Serving research university at which Latinos/as participate in undergraduate research at disproportionately low rates, Latino/a student inequities represent a serious problem of practice for HSIs. And, this problem of practice necessitates that institutions and their practitioners develop a Hispanic-Serving identity that drives them to take active, equity-focused measures.

Creating equity by design at HSIs requires that practitioners understand the equity-related challenges experienced by Latino/a students on their campus, and engage in practices and enact policies aimed at eliminating these inequities in educational outcomes and experiences. We realize that this is no easy task; part of the difficulty is rooted in the manner in which many HSIs came to be designated as such. Many HSIs are historically White institutions, and did not become Hispanic-Serving deliberately. In many instances, a confluence of social, historical, political, and economic factors fueled growing Latino/a student enrollments, leading to an increasing number of HSIs. In most cases, these external factors were beyond direct institutional control. As a result, many HSIs have not yet developed an authentic Hispanic-Serving identity (Contreras, Malcom, & Bensimon, 2008; Malcom-Piqueux, Suro, Bensimon & Fischer, 2013). In spite of the unintentional manner in which institutions become Hispanic-Serving, we contend that they must now be intentional about fulfilling all of the responsibilities implied by the HSI designation.

Whether an HSI came to be designated as such due to external factors beyond their control, the creation of equity by design must be undertaken by faculty, staff, administrators, and institutional leaders. Only by aligning policy and practice with the shared desire to improve Latino/a student outcomes can HSIs become truly Hispanic-Serving.


Contreras, F. E., Malcom, L. E., & Bensimon, E. M. (2008). Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Closeted identity and the production of equitable outcomes for Latino/a students. In M.

Gasman, B. Baez, & C. Turner (Eds.), Interdisciplinary approaches to understanding Minority Serving Institutions (pp. 71-90) New York: SUNY Press.

Malcom-Piqueux, L. E., Suro, R., Bensimon, E. M., & Fischer, A. (2013). Addressing Latino outcomes at California’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Los Angeles, CA: Center for Urban Education and Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, University of Southern California. Available at: [Digital Report]


Dr. Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux is the Associate Director for Research and Policy at the Center for Urban Education at USC. She is also an assistant professor of higher education administration at the George Washington University. Her research examines the experiences of minoritized women and men in STEM fields.

Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon is a professor of higher education and co-director of the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the USC Rossier School of Education. Her current research is on issues of racial equity in higher education from the perspective of organizational learning and socio-cultural practice theories.