Pillars of progress | In student-success efforts, 'minority' rules

In student-success efforts, ‘minority' rules

This issue of Lumina Foundation Focus magazine examines a group of institutions that embody the finest attributes of American postsecondary education.

The nation's minority-serving institutions (MSIs)—colleges and universities that enroll large populations of students of color—have a proud and vital tradition. For more than a century, they have built a legacy of inclusion that has transformed tens of millions of indi- vidual lives—a legacy that, in many ways, has made our system of higher education the envy of the world.

The very act of creating colleges specifically to pro- vide access and opportunity to those who have system- atically been denied it—which is true of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)—reflects our best impulses as educators and as human beings. That same deep commitment to justice and fairness is reflected today in the ongoing work of all MSIs, including the nation's growing number of Hispanic- Serving Institutions (HSIs).

There is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate the immense value of MSIs, not only to the individual students they serve, but to the entire nation. Consider these facts:

  • MSIs educate more than 2.3 million students, or about one-third of all American students of color—and these numbers are growing rapidly.
  • Sixty-three percent of the nation's Latino undergrad- uates are enrolled in MSIs, with fully half of these students in HSIs specifically.
  • MSIs confer nearly half of all teacher-education degrees awarded to African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in the United States.

Clearly, minority-serving institutions help meet a huge national need, a need that is growing rapidly as our nation becomes more diverse. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, total minority undergraduate enrollment grew 146 percent between 1984 and 2004, while enrollment of white undergradu- ates increased just 15 percent. Demographic projections show that, by the year 2050, people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population.

In light of these trends, it is clear that MSIs must be recognized as a leading voice for the students who rep- resent the backbone of our future workforce. These students find that MSIs offer unique educational experi- ences that foster cultural values and traditions, promote civic and community responsibility and produce citizens who are attuned to the increasingly diverse country in which we live.

For decades, MSIs have been serving the students who typically face the most significant barriers to college success—often with far fewer resources than are available at mainstream institutions. And, while doing this work, MSIs have learned valuable lessons that should be broadly shared and replicated. In other words, these institutions should be seen as sources of knowledge and inspiration—as fertile ground for ideas that can improve student success at all colleges and universities.

In fact, some of those ideas are brought to life in the pages that follow. For instance, in this issue of Focus you'll find inspiring stories from each of the three major types of MSIs.

  • In the Southwest, you'll learn about the data-driven effort to improve student success at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). It's an effort pushed inex- orably at this HSI by President Diana Natalicio, and it has given vital support to UTEP students such as 22-year-old Daniel Fuentes and 23-year-old Alma Ochoa, both residents of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
  • In the Deep South, you'll visit Alcorn State University (ASU) in Lorman, Miss., the nation's oldest historically and pre- dominantly black land-grant institution. Since its founding in 1862, this HBCU and its graduates have been proving that, as current Graduate Studies Dean Donzell Lee says, "demography isn't destiny." Among the many support programs at ASU, you'll read about the university's Pre-Professional and Pre-Graduate Program, which has helped ASU double the percentage of its graduates who go directly to graduate school.
  • In the Pacific Northwest, on the 12,500-acre Lummi Indian Reservation near Bellingham, Wash., you'll learn about Northwest Indian College (NWIC), where ancient tribal traditions are an integral part of the learning experience. Such traditions, including a deep respect for what President Cheryl Crazy Bull calls the "ancestral memory" of community elders, are the cultural connections that help keep students on track.

In all of these examples, and at MSIs in hundreds of other communities around the nation, dedicated indi- viduals and organizations are working hard to improve college access and success among underserved students. We at Lumina applaud their efforts, and we're proud to showcase their work here in Focus—not merely to celebrate it, but to hold it up as an example for others to follow.

Jamie P. Merisotis
President and CEO

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