HBCU, HSI, TCU, PBI, AANAPISI? Board members may have heard staff and the higher education community throw around these terms in discussions around federal funding, student enrollment, government relations, and more. They are but a few of the acronyms included in the umbrella term “minority-serving institution” (MSI). What are these terms, and why should they matter to board members?
The problem: Many institutions that serve underrepresented populations lack funding.
Colleges and universities have a monumental responsibility for educating students from all walks of life and empowering and inspiring them to find greater meaning and financial security in their lives. However, higher education institutions confront challenges that are similar to the ones facing other organizations and industries. The individuals (in this case, students) who might benefit the most from postsecondary education are unable to afford it. When many institutions rely on tuition to remain solvent and operational, this creates an undesirable and pernicious incentive: enroll only wealthier students who can pay.
Conversely, institutions that enroll large percentages of underserved students, especially minority students with limited access to funds and loans, can face additional financial hurdles and often lack the services, infrastructure, and flexibility that other institutions enjoy.
The federal government and U.S. Department of Education strengthen MSIs through grant programs.
Federal lawmakers determined that the Department of Education should create specific grants, partnerships, and other approaches to support institutions that serve significant percentages of undergraduate minority students.
In common parlance, professionals will use the individual designations associated with the federal programs (for example, “HSIs” for Hispanic-Serving Institutions) and “MSIs” to refer to all the different types of institutions. The goal of these federal programs is to provide financial assistance to institutions that recruit, retain, educate, and graduate underserved minority student populations and low-income individuals.
Why should board members know about these programs?
As with many aspects of the federal government, understanding the myriad programs and targeted audiences involves an avalanche of acronyms and bureaucratic processes. While colleges and universities must employ staff to navigate ongoing and temporary federal opportunities, the governing board has neither the time nor the responsibility for understanding these opportunities in depth.
Instead, a strategic board will use this information to consider how such programs will influence and affect the institution’s mission, finances, enrollment strategy, student success metrics, and more. A good start is to be familiar with some of the names and acronyms that are used in referencing these programs, initiatives, and federal designations. Board members can ask the administration about the value of seeking these designations, or how to better take advantage of available grants and other programs. These programs can assist in institution-wide student success efforts.
The details and technical characteristics of these programs may change over time due to political willpower. Like all federal programs, their budgets can grow or shrink, with a measurable impact on how well they benefit students and institutions. However, consequential board members that have a high-level understanding of these programs will be better, more thoughtful, and more strategic partners to chief executives and leadership teams.
In 2022, more than 860 different institutions were eligible for MSI status. Below is a basic summary of each federal designation.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
- Unlike most other federal designations, no new institution can become an HBCU. To receive federal funds under the main HBCU institutional grant program, institutions must have been established before 1964 with a principal mission of educating Black Americans. New institutions that seek to serve Black students can apply for Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) designation. (Institutions cannot have both HBCU and PBI designations.)
- While many of the schools we refer to as HBCUs have been around for more than a century, the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 created the federal designation. The institutions were founded to cater specifically to Black students in a time when most colleges and universities were segregated. HBCUs have an important and storied history and continue to graduate Black students more often and in greater numbers than any other segment of higher education.
- Part B of Title III of the HEA contains the main HBCU institutional grant program. Part D of Title III contains the HBCU Capital Financing Authority.
HEA Title III Programs
Tribal Colleges or Universities (TCUs)
- Tribal Colleges or Universities are institutions that qualify for funding under the Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Assistance Act or the Navajo Community College Act, or are cited under the Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act.
- Section 316 of the HEA contains the program that provides institutional grants to Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities.
- White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Native Americans and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities
Alaska Native-Serving Institutions or Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions (ANIs and NHIs)
- An Alaska Native-Serving Institution is otherwise eligible to receive a grant under the Strengthening Institutions program (section 312 of the HEA) and has an enrollment of at least 20 percent undergraduate Alaska Native students. A Native Hawaiian-Serving Institution is otherwise eligible to receive a grant under the Strengthening Institutions program (section 312 of the HEA) and has an enrollment of at least 10 percent undergraduate Native Hawaiian students
- Section 317 of the HEA contains the program that provides institutional grants to ANIs and NHIs.
Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs)
- A Predominantly Black Institution has an enrollment of needy undergraduate students, an average educational and general expenditure that is low in comparison with the average educational and general expenditure of other institutions that offer similar instruction, and an enrollment of undergraduate students that is not less than 40 percent Black. A PBI cannot also receive a grant under the HBCU grant authority included in Part B of Title III of the HEA.
- Section 318 of the HEA contains the program that provides institutional grants to PBIs.
Native American-Serving Nontribal Institution (NASNTIs)
- A Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institution is otherwise eligible to receive a grant under the Strengthening Institutions program (section 312 of the HEA) and has an enrollment of at least 10 percent undergraduate Native American students.
- Section 319 of the HEA contains the program that provides institutional grants to NASNTIs.
Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISIs)
- An Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving Institution is otherwise eligible to receive a grant under the Strengthening Institutions program (section 312 of the HEA) and has an enrollment of at least 10 percent undergraduate Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander students.
- Section 320 of the HEA contains the program that provides institutional grants to AANAPISIs.
HEA Title V: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs)
- A Hispanic-Serving Institution has an enrollment of needy students, an average educational and general expenditure that is low in comparison with the average educational and general expenditure of other institutions that offer similar instruction, and an enrollment of undergraduate students that is not less than 25 percent Hispanic.
- Title V of the HEA contains the program that provides institutional grants to HSIs.
Questions for Boards:
- Does the board and administration keep abreast of changing federal designations for MSI status that may pertain to the institution?
- How do these grants, including grants awarded competitively or by formula, affect the institution’s budget?
- How does the institution use these grants and other program elements to benefit minority students, low-income students, and the student body as a whole?
- How is the institution’s enrollment strategy affected by a desire to qualify for an MSI designation?
- Do the board’s advocacy goals include efforts to maintain or expand MSI grants that would benefit students and the institution?
Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.