affirmative action, African Americans, colleges, Congress, higher education, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Hispanics, historically black colleges and universities, identity politics, Im-Politic, lobbying, minorities, Politico, reconciliation bill, universities
Just what America needs right now – yet another source of identity politics-driven division, right? And one that looks completely bogus. Apparently this is exactly what the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) thinks.
Politico.com reported last week that the organization is competing with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) for funding reserved for “minority-serving institutions” in the big social spending bill (also called the “reconciliation bill”) passed by the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives but still still under consideration in the Senate.
And according to Politico, that’s how the measure has been structured – which depressingly indicates that the scramble for power, influence, and government resources has great potential to pit various racial and ethnic minority groups against one another, as well as continuing to foster competition between these groups collectively against whites. (Another example of intra-minority tensions – the pushback by Asian-American groups against affirmative action programs that they claim unjustly discriminate against them and for other “people of color.”)
But let’s say that, for some whacko reason, Americans decide that these battles among minority groups should be encouraged, or tolerated. Let’s also agree for the sake of argument that throughout American history, Hispanics have suffered from discrimination comparable to that which has victimized African Americans. (It’s a completely specious claim, but that’s not the point.) Shouldn’t the organizations involved at least boast genuine levels of legitimacy? If you agree, then the HACU doesn’t have a leg to stand on, even though according to the group’s website, the federal government for decades has formally recognized “campuses with high Hispanic enrollment as federally designated HSIs and [begun] targeting federal appropriations to those campuses.”
After all, the HBCUs were founded because of decades of unquestionably systemic and predominantly officially sanctioned discrimination in U.S. higher education against black Americans. Those days thankfully are gone, but it’s understandable that many African American students still want to attend those colleges and universities for reasons like demonstrating solidarity with them due to their historic role, or to a greater sense of comfort academically and/or socially on majority black campuses.
But the story of “Hispanic Serving Institutions” (HSIs) is totally different from that of the HBCUs. In fact, it’s so totally different that they don’t seem to have a story as such at all. The first big clue comes from the HACU’s own description of its membership: They’re schools “committed to Hispanic higher education success in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Latin America, Spain and U.S. school districts.” Even overlooking the inclusion of non-U.S. institutions in this definition (and, incredibly weirdly, Spain???), evidently the only hard and fast characteristic distinguishing these schools is their domination of Hispanic college enrollment in the United States (allegedly two-thirds).
But a look at the HACU’s membership list (which includes memberships of all types, in addition to institutions it classifies as HSIs) reveals that this criterion is meaningless on two major grounds. First, a very large percentage of these institutions are located in places like California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and New York. In other words, they’re located in states with big Hispanic populations – along with Puerto Rico. So of course they enroll outsized shares of Hispanic students – especially since so many of those schools are public colleges, universities, and community colleges. And that’s supposed to demonstrate a defining commitment?
Second, perusing the membership list also quickly reveals that this commitment is often pretty weak, at least numerically speaking. For instance, Ball State University in Indiana is a member. Hispanics represents just 6.26 percent of its undergraduate and graduate enrollment. Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio belongs, too. It’s Hispanic enrollment is just 6.52 percent. For Central Michigan University, it’s a mere 4.89 percent. Duke University, with an overall student body that’s 6.78 percent Hispanic is a member. So is Emory University in Atlanta (8.17 percent), Michigan State University (6.01 percent), Mount Holyoke College (7.61 percent), Northwestern University (8.68 percent), the Univeristy of Alabama-Birmingham (4.42 percent), the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (7.31 pecent), the University of Tennessee (4.75 percent), the University of Chicago (4.54 percent), the University of Michigan (6.51 percent), the University of Pennsylvania (6.74 percent), the University of Pittsburgh (3.70 percent), Villanova University (5.38 percent), Washington University in St. Louis (6.69 percent).
(Note: Many of these figures come from the “Universities” section of the DataUSA.io website founded in part by the international consulting firm Deloitte. The others come from the websites of these institutions themselves.)
And here’s some vital context: As of the latest available (2016) data from the U.S. Department of Education, the share of Hispanic students at all degree-granting American post-secondary schools was 17 percent. So all the above schools associated with the HACU are serving Hispanic students much less well according to this key measure than the national average. And since figures from the same agency show that the Hispanic share of the American college and university student body has been rising faster than that of any other racial or ethnic group, and since the above enrollment figures are all from well after 2016, arguably their performance has worsened in recent years.
Even more bizarre: The HACU reports that for its own “membership purposes, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are defined as colleges, universities, or systems/districts where total Hispanic enrollment constitutes a minimum of 25% of the total enrollment.” So by its own standards, none of the above schools should be members – or even close.
Moreover, the federal government itself has no official list of HSIs. But for the purposes of determining eligibility for aid, the 25 percent threshhold also seems crucial (though as you will see, HACU acknowledges that there’s no fixed formula.
If Hispanics want to start their own separate higher education system and then seek as much taxpayer-funded assistance as they can get, that’s their God-given right as citizens of this great country. But it’s obvious that no such system has ever existed, that none exists now, and that the idea that Congress should pay any attention an organization even claiming to speak for a significant number of schools with an unusually strong commitment to higher education for Hispanics is a sham.
Moreover, rather than continue to play grievance politics – and with an artificial interest group – wouldn’t it be much better for the nation as a whole, and even for Hispanics specifically, for these institutions reorient their lobbying toward ensuring college affordability for all American students in need who can truly benefit from higher education. And wouldn’t it be nice if on top of seeking additional access to the government funding trough, and thereby indirectly feathering their own nests even more lavishly, they paid at least as much attention to reducing their long-soaring costs – e.g., by improving their performance and their efficiency?
After all, if American higher education doesn’t start helping students think more logically and coherently; receive an accurate, balanced picture of the society in which they live and the civilization that spawned it; and function effectively in the economy that it’s created, then any lobbying victories it wins will be hollow for those they say they’re championing.