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The Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities: A Collaborative Vision

The Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities: A Collaborative Vision

The vision for Latino student representation in universities and colleges across the country has been changing and growing for decades. More than 550 universities are Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), defined in Title V of the Higher Education Act as not-for-profit institutions of higher learning with a full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25% Hispanic.

What Happens Once Latinx Students Obtain Undergraduate Degrees?  

The number of HSIs is impressive, but when fewer than 6% of doctoral graduates are Hispanic, the vision needs to be refined, focusing on opportunities, pathways, and pipelines that will help Latinx students wanting to further their education, especially in prestigious doctoral research programs. 

To serve this population of Latino graduate students, the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities (HSRU) was launched in August 2022. It is a voluntary association of 21 leading research universities that are both Hispanic-Serving Institutions and in the top 5% of universities in the country for research, or R1 schools. 

Its goals by 2030 are to 1) double the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled at R1 universities and 2) increase the Hispanic professoriate by 20%.

“That's the challenge here,” says Azuri Gonzalez, Executive Director of HRSU. “That yes, you get this designation, but it does not mean that you are, in effect, a Hispanic-serving institution if you're not focusing on the serving aspect of it.” 

The Alliance is all about serving. It was created after Michael D. Amiridis, Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) at the time, reached out to other presidents and chancellors from HSI-R1 schools. Approximately 100 leaders and faculty from 16 universities emerged from a 2020 convening, committed to increasing equity through educational access and promoting Latinx humanities scholarship. They took the responsibility to seriously increase opportunities for those historically underserved by higher education. 

“We believe that there are not enough Latino faculty, and that is an incredibly important equity consideration in education,” said Marie Lynn Miranda, current Chancellor of UIC and former provost at the University of Notre Dame. “So first of all, as a basic measure of how well we're addressing equity, we should have full representation of all the many peoples and cultures on our faculty. And secondly, there is ample research that indicates that for Latino students, working with Latino faculty members on a research project gives them a different level of confidence and belief in who they can be in their scholarly journey. And we know the same thing is true for black students. We know the same thing is true for female students with female faculty.” 

At UIC, a Hispanic-serving research institution with approximately 33,000 students, about 56% of students are Pell Grant recipients and 42% are first generation, said Chancellor Miranda. She believed this was an extraordinary opportunity to serve students from these diverse backgrounds. 

“We have more than half a billion dollars in annual research funding. There’s that much research going on and, therefore, many more opportunities for graduate students to connect to interesting work. So, we’re changing the pipeline so that Latino students in the future will have more opportunities to be engaged in research in a classroom with people who look like them, share experiences with them.”

Collaborations and Networking 

The Alliance’s principles revolve around collaboration, networking and finding opportunities. The HSRU website states: “We believe that our network is stronger than we are as individual institutions acting alone, and that by working together we are more likely to reach our common goals. We will share data with each other, study lessons learned, and promulgate research-based models and strategies to enhance Hispanic student success at our own institutions and beyond.”

This collaboration extends beyond HSRU members to work with nonprofits, government agencies and foundations that value and share the same goals. 

Dr. Heather Wilson, president of the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP) and chair of the Alliance says, “We all have grants and research. Our total research expenditures among all of us is over $7 billion a year. So the question becomes, how do we use this to do more together than any of us can do alone?” 

In 2020, UIC Chancellor Amiridis, Amalia Pallares, then Associate Chancellor and Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Engagement, and María de los Ángeles Torres, LAS Distinguished Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, “identified the need to create a consortium of Carnegie designated Research 1 and Hispanic Serving Institutions to advance research on US Latinas/os/x, strengthen the pipeline to the professoriate, and develop new collaborative research agendas.” Crossing Latinidades: Emerging Scholars and New Comparative Directions was born, made possible by a $5 million multi-institutional grant from the Mellon Foundation. It became the anchor of HSRU.

The Alliance now also has several connections or projects underway with the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense, among others, explained Wilson, who also served as the 24th Secretary of the United States Air Force and represented New Mexico in the US Congress for 10 years. “In each of those cases, we get small subgroups engaging and talking about potential grant opportunities and more.” 

For example, HSRU is working on a pilot project through the Department of Education to develop and test new models of collaboration to increase the number of Hispanic doctoral students, and with the National Science Foundation to recognize the underrepresentation of Hispanics in STEM and identify ways to engage and educate these “missing millions.”

“We've done a couple of private sector grants,” says Wilson. The Luce Foundation, for example, funded a gathering to get 200 women together—faculty and their PhD students—from engineering and science disciplines. It created a network of fellowships across these universities for a broader connection. 

In addition to helping PhD students complete their dissertations, most Alliance members focus on building a network and cohorts of a community, explained Gonzalez. “It’s not just ‘let’s get you to complete this and send you out there and hope you do a great job’. It’s more like, how do we build that network so that you have people to rely on, to connect with, so it’s supporting the value of the research and brings to light knowledge by Latinos for Latinos?” 

First Steps to Best Practices

The efforts and approaches of each Alliance institution are as varied as the types of research programs available for doctoral students. 

Wilson believes UTEP does a good job at encouraging students—95% minority and 84% Hispanic—to go on to graduate education. When she arrived at UTEP, however, she found that of almost 24,000 students, there were almost no applicants for the Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Scholarships, the Fulbright Program, or other full ride graduate fellowships. Students just didn’t know about them, she said. 

She had a flashback to her undergrad years as a first-generation sophomore student. “I had a computer science faculty member who told me after class one day, ‘You know, you’re really good at this. You could probably apply for one of these Rhodes scholarships.’ I had no idea what he was talking about. I had no clue. But he told me where to go to find out about it.” She ended up applying and was awarded a scholarship. 

That knowledge is power. UTEP created a Graduate Fellowship Office where a network of 70 faculty members were trained on how graduate research fellowship programs work, and direct students to the office. These innovative outreach ideas remain the cornerstone of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities.

Wilson said, “We can share best practices across 21 very large institutions. We believe that talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not, so our responsibility is to open the doors to opportunity for highly talented students who might not otherwise apply.” •