Hispanic Serving Institutions: Becoming Institutions that Equitably “Serve” Latinas/os
Gina Garcia

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pittsburgh

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
Latina/o students are the fastest growing population in postsecondary education, with sixty percent entering college by way of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs; degree-granting postsecondary institutions that enroll 25% or more Latina/o students). Yet there continues to be a lack of equity in graduation rates and post-baccalaureate outcomes for Latinas/os at HSIs, prompting scholars to question the extent to which HSIs are actually “serving” Latinas/os. Based on current literature and my dissertation research, I contend that an institution with a Latina/o-serving organizational identity produces academic and psychosocial outcomes for Latinas/os while sustaining and enhancing their culture. Institutions, however, must do more than enroll students, and instead take proactive steps to transform their institutional structures, policies, and practices in order to equitably serve Latinas/os.Using a multiple case study design inclusive of document reviews, interviews, observations, and artifacts, I aim to develop a theory about what it means for a postsecondary institution to have a Latina/o-serving identity. While this study is grounded in theories stemming from sociology of organizations and organizational behavior (i.e., institutional theory and cultural theory), I am specifically expanding on an HSI organizational identity typology I developed, looking to confirm and disconfirm early notions about what it means for an organization to serve Latinas/os. Since becoming an HSI is racialized (i.e., based on the enrollment of racial/ethnic students), this study is also guided by theories that focus specifically on race within organizational elements. The three sites for this study are located in a large metropolitan area in the Midwest and range in size, type, and history as an HSI.With this qualitative phase of the study funded by a NAEd/Spencer postdoctoral fellowship, I will continue to test and develop an organizational theory for serving Latinas/os, before moving into a second phase of the project, which includes the creation of quantitative measures that can be used to determine the extent to which HSIs are serving Latina/o students. Leading this extensive research design with a qualitative phase is appropriate as instruments, surveys, and robust theories that capture the phenomenon of an organization serving racialized students are currently unavailable. My goal is to eventually develop a survey that can be administered and validated on a small sample of HSIs. These quantitative measures will ultimately be made available for institutional assessment purposes and for further testing theoretical propositions about what it means to become an institution that equitably serves Latina/o students.This research contributes to the field of higher education by not only theorizing about what it means for an institution to convey and enact a commitment to serving Latinas/os, but by offering proactive approaches for transforming institutional structures in order to better serve historically oppressed groups. The goal is to offer HSIs practical solutions for committing to not only enrolling, but also producing equitable outcomes for Latina/o students. This study also has implications for state and federal policy, as legislators are seeking ways to hold institutions accountable for providing an affordable path to degree attainment. In order to meet national goals laid out for increasing degree completion, job training, and skill development for all U.S. citizens, educational policy makers must recognize the importance of HSIs in meeting these demands, particularly for marginalized students. HSIs are extremely heterogeneous, ranging from two-year to four-year, broad access to more selective, and rural to urban, enabling them to enroll disadvantaged groups that have traditionally lacked access to postsecondary education.
About Gina Garcia
Dr. Gina Ann Garcia is an assistant professor in the department of Administrative and Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches master’s and doctoral students pursuing degrees in higher education and student affairs. Her research centers on issues of equity and diversity in higher education with an emphasis on three core areas: Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs; postsecondary institutions that enroll at least 25% Latina/o undergraduate students), Latina/o college students, and race and racism in higher education. She looks specifically at the way organizational members at HSIs construct and enact a racialized HSI identity, focusing on how they come to serve minoritized populations, including Students of Color, low-income students, undocumented students, and first generation college students. She deconstructs the structural and organizational elements that must be in place in order to transform organizations that are inherently oppressive into equitable and inclusive spaces for these minoritized populations. She also studies the racialized and gendered experiences of Latina/o college students, looking specifically at their involvement on campus and the structures of opportunity available for them. Furthermore, Dr. Garcia does research on race and racism in higher education, including understanding people’s experiences with racial microaggressions and the occurrence of racialized incidents on college campuses, including racially themed parties and biased incidents, with the goal of deconstructing these inherently racist events. Dr. Garcia graduated from California State University, Northridge with a B.S. in marketing, the University of Maryland, College Park with a M.A. in college student personnel, and the University of California, Los Angeles with a Ph.D. in higher education and organizational change.

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