You’ll love these perks from attending a Hispanic-Serving Institution (regardless of your ethnicity)

It’s major news when a college or university reaches 25% Hispanic enrollment and can be designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). It’s great for the community and for the school, of course, but students might not understand how much it can benefit them, too.

Let’s examine how a diverse student body makes a difference for students (and prospective students who are considering that school). The HSI status unlocks opportunities for the institution that are passed along to all students, not just those students who are Latino or Hispanic. This designation shapes both the culture and the educational experiences for everyone.

What exactly is an HSI?

Simply put, colleges and universities that have a minimum of 25% of their undergraduate student population identifying as Hispanic can receive an official designation from the U.S. Department of Education as Hispanic-Serving Institutions. 

There are approximately 340 HSI schools that belong to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). Only 17% of all higher ed colleges and universities in the U.S. are Hispanic-Serving Institutions, according to HACU. Remarkably, these schools serve two-thirds of all Hispanic college students.

Wisconsin is home to two HSIs, including Mount Mary University (MMU).

“I can’t help but feel proud of Mount Mary for our HSI designation,” said MMU student Giselle Martin Gomez ’23. “It definitely plays a factor in why I continue to attend and choose the university. Mount Mary offers so much financial, academic, and personal support that allows students from all ethnicities to see a college education as a possibility.”

Thanks to this federal designation, schools have access to significant federal funding not only in the form of student scholarships, but also improvements to campus and programs. It provides access to Title V federal grants and funding from other agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Among the most diverse schools in the Midwest

For a number of years, MMU has been increasingly recognized for its diverse student population. According to the fall 2022 student census, 34% of the undergraduate student population is Hispanic. For the past few years, the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges Report has named MMU among the top two regional universities in the Midwest for ethnic and economic diversity.

The school’s census data is based on self-identification, much like the U.S. government’s official census-taking practices. The definition of Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, includes having origins in one of over 20 countries. Students who are U.S. residents and DACA students are included in this designation, while foreign students studying on student visas are not included in this count.

MMU has been an HSI since 2020. With one out of every three undergraduate women at MMU sharing that they identify as Hispanic, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Latina, Guatemalan, Cuban-American, Costa Rican, Latinx and more, MMU’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

Federal grants provide opportunities

In 2021 alone, MMU has received $7.8 million in federal grants, and both of these grants were awarded based on merit along with its status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. These grants support new programs, campus development and scholarships.

The U.S. Department of Education is funding a four-year program to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income women enrolled in STEM programs by 10 percent.

The National Science Foundation awarded $3 million to introduce strong technology elements throughout the institution and offer a human-technology interface degree program in User Experience (UX) Design.

These objectives, to provide more opportunities to underserved women, have deep implications for the women themselves, their families and their communities. Having more diverse women in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as UX User Design, opens up the profession. It follows that the outcomes and products from diverse groups of people will better reflect the perspectives of all.

Leveling the playing field for women and the underserved has been a foundational mission for MMU long before the HSI designation; MMU is one of the oldest women’s colleges in the country, and continues to be pioneers in providing access.

Another notable grant from the National Science Foundation for the includes five-year, $1 million scholarship funding to expand access to STEM careers for women and widen the talent pool of highly skilled scientists in the Milwaukee area. It is designed to increase retention and graduation rates of limited income, academically strong students within chemistry, biology and food science chemistry majors and is named after Dr. Jewel Plummer-Cobb, a notable African American cancer researcher.

More support means higher graduation rates

To make sure every student succeeds, deep support measures are in place at MMU to make sure nothing stands in the way of graduation and completion of their degrees. As diversity has increased so have programs and services to support student success. Over 30% of degree-seeking, Hispanic undergraduate students are Pell Grant eligible.

These federal Pell Grants are available for low-income students seeking financial assistance. Unlike a loan, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid.

Several grant-funded programs are designed to attract and retain disadvantaged students and underrepresented minority populations:

  • Grace Scholars – increases access to post-secondary education in communities where college might otherwise be out of reach. Each year, the program provides 30 incoming freshman with 85 percent tuition coverage for four years. Historically, approximately 50% of these students are Hispanic.
  • Promise Program – a federally funded TRIO Student Support Services program, also serving first-generation and low-income college students at the university in order to help them remain in good academic standing, persist in college, and graduate with a baccalaureate degree. In 2021, 44% were Hispanic.
  • Caroline Scholars - the Caroline Scholars Program is a four-year scholarship program for first-year, full-time undergraduate students with a passion for social justice.

Groups and activities advance Hispanic achievement

The support for Hispanic students begins as soon as their first visit to the website, which offers abundant resources for Spanish-speaking families, as well as a staff of bilingual admissions counselors who lead tours and answer questions. It’s not unusual for Hispanic students to be the first in their families to attend college (in 2020, 46% of Hispanic students at MMU were first-generation students) and being welcoming and accessible to parents, guardians and students is an important goal.

As students progress through their program, there are clubs and organizations that give students the opportunity to explore and celebrate their heritage and history, at the same time making connections with leaders within the broader local Hispanic community.

One organization, Student Achieving Leadership through Spanish Activities (SALSA), holds events and fundraisers that promote understanding and showcase the culture of the Spanish-speaking world. Another group that meets regularly on campus, the campus chapter of the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee (HPGM), provides networking and leadership opportunities with Milwaukee professionals. Both organizations are open to all students, regardless of ethnicity.

MMU places a strong emphasis on global learning, including programs in:

  • Global studies (major and minor)
  • Spanish (major and minor)
  • Spanish certificate for native and heritage speakers of Spanish

A number of exciting study abroad opportunities are available to Spanish-speaking countries including Costa Rica, Peru and Guatemala. Plus, generous financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available to help fund study abroad.


The goal of an HSI is to examine all facets of the community to make sure that everything aligns in way that welcomes and represents all students and their families.

If you’re ready to experience the unique culture of an HSI – regardless of your ethnicity – you can learn more about Mount Mary’s diverse and supportive environment today.