College Student Guide to Minority Serving Institutions

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Historically and currently, Black, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Hispanic students face unequal educational opportunities at specific universities. Minority serving institutions (MSIs) respond to this challenge. Some of these schools formed in recent decades, but others have been empowering students for a century.

Unfortunately, some of the first minority serving institutions did not help students. In 1654, Harvard created a college for Native American students. Out of the class of 20, only two students graduated, and many died due to harsh living conditions. However, things began to change for the better. In 2014, the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions opened as the first center dedicated to empowering these schools, boasting a high graduate success rate.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, these institutions help minority students succeed academically despite racial discrimination and lack of economic opportunities. Rutgers publishes a minority serving institutions list to help connect students with schools that serve 1-2 specific minority groups.

On this page, we discuss the types of minority serving institutions and reasons to attend these schools.

What Is a Minority Serving Institution?



Minority colleges rose in popularity in response to historic higher education inequities. Now these schools hire diverse staff and ensure equal opportunities for students of color. These colleges receive special funding from the government through Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965. As a result, students at these schools benefit from lower tuition.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) sets specific criteria that schools must meet to classify as MSIs. These schools keep expenditures low and enroll mostly minority students. The ED publishes specific eligibility thresholds for each school, and these institutions must reapply for MSI designation annually.

Minority colleges serve low-income students primarily. Ninety-eight percent of Black and Native American students at MSIs qualify for federal, income-based student aid. Over half of MSI students receive federal Pell grants, compared to just 31% of students overall.

Minority serving institutions benefit society as a whole. Many students attending an MSI could not afford to pursue higher education otherwise. These schools produce talented graduates ready to enter the workforce.

Students can find an MSI in every U.S. state and territory. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) constitute one of the most well-known MSI types. Find an overview of HBCUs and other types of minority serving institutions listed in the next section.

Types of Minority Serving Institutions



The ED recognizes seven types of MSIs. Although these schools allow students from other racial backgrounds to attend, they primarily serve students from one specific race. See the definitions of common MSIs below and learn about the completion rates and government funding.

  • Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions (ANNHs)

    ANNHs gained federal recognition through the Higher Education Act of 1998. ANNH collectively refers to schools that serve Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian students. At least 20% of students attending these schools must possess primarily Alaskan or Hawaiian native heritage. In 2010, The American Council on Education discovered more than half of ANNHs offered two-year degrees. Additionally, their findings revealed that nearly one-third of students successfully completed their credentials at two-year public ANNHs.

  • Asian American and Native American Pacific Island Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs)

    AANAPISIs maintain at least a 10% Asian American Pacific Islander student enrollment rate. These schools earned federal recognition through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. In 2010, the American Council on Education reported that 45% of AANAPISIs offered two-year degrees. Out of all the students enrolled at these two-year schools, over 60% of full-time students completed their degrees. Comparatively, 37.6% of students who attended part-time or full-time completed their degrees.

    College Scholarships for Asian and Pacific Islander Students

  • Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)

    HSIs must maintain a student body composed of at least 25% full-time Hispanic students. These institutions gained federal recognition through the Higher Education Act of 1992. In 2010, about half of HSIs classified as two-year institutions. During this year, the completion rate measured 34.2% for both full-time and part-time learners, and 53% of students who exclusively attended full-time completed their credentials.

    Hispanic-Serving Institutions

  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

    HBCU refers to any U.S. institution established before 1964 with a past and current mission to educate Black students. These colleges first gained federal recognition in 1965 through the Higher Education Act. More than 40% of HBCUs in 2010 were public four-year schools, and more than 47% of enrolled students completed their credentials. These institutions welcome students from any race, and the federal government does not place enrollment requirements on these schools.

    Historically Black Colleges and Universities

  • Native American Indian Serving, Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTIs)

    The federal government began recognizing NASNTIs in 2008 through the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Out of all the students that these schools enroll, 10% must have Native American heritage. Nearly half of NASNTIs in 2010 offered two-year degrees. Over the six-year study period, 47.3% of full-time students completed their degrees. Comparatively, both full-time and part-time students collectively met a 38.2% completion rate.

    Colleges for Native American Students

  • Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs)

    PBIs vary from HBCUs. Although both institution types serve Black students, PBIs must meet enrollment requirements. These schools serve a minimum of 1,000 undergraduate students. Additionally, low-income or first-generation college students must make up 50% of the student body. Lastly, these institutions must enroll at least 40% African American students.

    PBIs gained federal recognition through the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. American Council on Education 2010 data reveals that more than half of PBIs offer two-year degrees. This organization also found that 33.8% of enrolled students completed their degrees.

  • Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)

    TCUs began receiving federal funding thanks to the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act of 1978. Native American tribes charter some of these schools, and the U.S. government charters others. In 2016, 34 TCUs enrolled 16,677 undergraduate students. Out of these 34 schools, 25 offered two-year degrees. During this year, American Indian or Alaskan Native students comprised 77.8% of the student body, and white students comprised 16.5%.

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5 Reasons to Go to a Minority Serving Institution



Attending a minority serving institution comes with significant benefits. Many MSI students feel a safe sense of belonging and thrive as a result. See five reasons to attend minority serving institutions listed below. Some schools offer additional benefits, like scholarships and mentorships, so contact minority colleges directly to learn more.

  • 1. Diversity

    Many MSIs accept students from all races. Any student can learn about the unique customs and struggles other individuals experience. National Center for Education Statistics 2015 data shows that white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Native American students comprised 22% of total HBCU enrollment. In 1976, this figure stood at 15%.

  • 2. Support

    Minority students at MSIs benefit from supportive professors that share their culture. Aside from academic support, these learners may also qualify for federal financial aid. For example, the CARES act put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic provided emergency educational funding for MSI students.

  • 3. Greater return on investment

    Attending an MSI typically costs less than other schools, but learners still receive a quality education. This low-risk investment pays off for most students. Graduates qualify for high-paying jobs that cover student loans, living, and leisure expenses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers informative data on earning potential for specific careers.

  • 4. Higher graduation rates

    MSIs boast high graduation rates. The American Council on Education provides informative data on MSI student completion rates. The latest data from fall 2010 reveals that 42% of students who started at a public four-year HBCU in fall 2010 completed their degree within six years. The percentage rose even higher for full-time students at a 60% completion rate.

  • 5. Culture

    Many students from diverse cultural backgrounds grow up as a minority in their community. When they attend an MSI, they bond with hundreds of peers who share the same ancestral history and traditions. These students discover shared experiences and feel known, seen, and less alone.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Minority Students

Q&A with an Expert

Clarissa M. Cota

Clarissa M. Cota took time to answer some important questions about MSIs and why they can benefit all students.

Q. How did College of Southern Nevada become an HSI?

We have multiple campuses throughout the Las Vegas Valley, and the Department of Education’s rules and regulations require that the entire higher education institution hit the mark of 25% Hispanic to qualify as an HSI. At first, however, we were only close to that number at one of our campuses. The president for CSN in 2013 was Mike Richards, and he initiated an internal task force that started our efforts to assess our changing demographics.

When we first started looking at qualifying as an HSI in 2013, we were only at 22-23% Hispanic. We did a large campaign over the summer and discovered we had close to 8% of our students not declaring their ethnicity. This led us to do a large callout for students to declare their ethnicity and explained why. Through that effort, we were able to get our numbers over 25%, and CSN became the first HSI in Nevada.

Q. Why did CSN think it was important to become a minority serving institution?

It was really about building awareness in the institution, as well as what it really means to be of service to our students. Regardless of ethnicity, what does it mean to be of service, and then what does it mean to be an MSI? Being an MSI isn’t just about the federal monies that you might qualify to compete for — it’s supposed to be a true recognition of who your students are, recognizing what their needs may be, and having focused interventions that may help them be more successful. That involves the entire institution.

Q. College of Southern Nevada is quite diverse: 27.7% Hispanic, 11.3% Black, 10% Asian. It qualifies as both an HSI and an AANAPISI. How does the school balance the cultural needs of all students?

The message has to be that if we qualify to compete for a grant, whether it’s an HSI or AANAPISI grant, at the end of the day that money is going to CSN for student learning. Maybe it’s a new lab, maybe it’s a new accelerated pathway, maybe it’s more advisors, but ultimately those services are for all students and no group will be excluded.

Q. How are MSIs different from non-MSIs?

I think MSIs have a culture that develops over time. MSIs also provide additional resources that can help build the retention and persistence of students, as well as other programming that helps with tutorial assistance.

Q. What's an example of how MSIs can better serve minority students?

At CSN, we look at what our overall priorities are and how they benefit our students. For example, if we look at tackling the ESL population, there was a project we took on that had to do with admissions.

In this case, we were discovering and hearing that when we had someone come to admissions with a language barrier, there wasn’t really a cohesive way to, for instance, give them a pamphlet and ask, ‘Okay, what level are you at?’ so that we could triage their needs. Should they be in our non-credit program to reach our high-school equivalency level or should they go to our language lab so that they can get command of the English language first? Or are they someone who could take our college placement test and then take developmental English to get on to the English track?

There are a lot of different options. So, through collaboration with a lot of different departments we discovered that most of our ESL speakers were being funneled through the language lab. We set up advisors to hold hours and orientations at the language lab, so we were meeting the students where they were really at and could then help them further with financial aid and degree choice.

Q. If a student isn't a person of color or a minority, can they still attend an MSI?

Yes. While MSIs do serve specific minority groups, it doesn’t mean a school will turn away non-minority students who meet admissions requirements. Being an MSI just means the school has a built-in community for minorities and offers support resources that better understand and meet the unique needs of these student groups. But at the end of the day, an MSI still serves all students.

Q. What are the benefits of attending an MSI if the student isn't a minority?

The biggest benefit is the diversity. Many non-MSIs are very homogenous, and I don’t think that’s a true reflection of the community most students live in today. Therefore, it’s also not a reflection of the community they’re going to work in, live in, and be successful in.

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