College Student Guide to Minority Serving Institutions

What Are They & Why Are They Beneficial?

Nearly 700 institutions across the U.S. have something in common that you might not be aware of – they’re minority serving institutions (MSIs), and they produced about 28 percent of graduates in 2017. MSIs admit a larger proportion of low-income and minority students, have more diverse faculties and are better able to address the unique challenges and needs of minority students than non-MSIs. Read on to learn about the seven types of MSIs and the benefits of attending one, even if you’re not a student of color.

What Is a Minority Serving Institution?

Minority serving institutions (MSIs) came about through historic inequities in educating minority populations. The most well-known MSIs are likely historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Possibly less well-known are tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). In 1999, HBCUs, TCUs and HSIs formed the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education to advocate for these three MSIs. Now there are even more recognized MSIs, which will be explored in the section below.

MSIs can be found in almost every state and territory, and they are only expected to grow in the coming years. In fact, nearly all the growth in postsecondary education enrollment through 2025 is expected to come from minority students. Furthermore, these institutions should remain affordable because, in order to qualify for U.S. Department of Education’s grant programs specifically for MSIs, they are restricted from raising tuition and must keep expenditures low.

Due to new findings by the American Council on Education, it is becoming apparent that these institutions serve a critical role in propelling low-income and minority students upward. A 2018 council report found that MSIs boost students “from the bottom to the top of the income distribution at higher rates than non-MSIs.”

Types of MSIs

A school must apply for the minority serving institution designation with the federal government. To receive this designation, a college must meet a certain percentage threshold of a specific ethnic minority group; this percentage varies by ethnicity. Once designated as an MSI, the school can then apply and compete for federal grants that have been earmarked for these types of institutions. Such funds can be used for a variety of services and equipment, but must benefit the minority group the institution is serving.

Although MSI is the umbrella term, there are many different qualifying minority groups. These include:

Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions (ANNH)

Alaska Native-serving institutions are postsecondary schools with student bodies composed of at least 20 percent Alaska Natives. Native Hawaiian-serving institutions have at least 10 percent Native Hawaiian students. These schools receive discretionary funding from the federal government to improve their services and expand capacity.


  • Honolulu Community College features the Ke Kukui Hawaiian Center, the goal of which is to increase the graduation rate of Native Hawaiian students. It also supports integration of the Hawaiian culture into campus life and class curricula.
  • University of Alaska Southeast, Ketchikan has a number of baccalaureate and associate degrees, the majority of which are offered online. The university also runs vocational programs, such as marine transportation.
  • University of Hawaii Maui College’s aim is to increase Native Hawaiian success by increasing graduation rates. It accomplishes this through peer tutoring at its Student Success Center, which receives federal grant funding.

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

Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs) are a unique group as this designation includes more than 48 ethnicities and over 300 different languages. In 2014, only 19 AANAPISIs received funding, although 160 institutions met the criteria for the designation. At least 10 percent of undergraduate enrollment at an institution must be APIA for it to be considered an AANAPISI.


  • University of Illinois at Chicago offers mentor programs and on- and off-campus internships specifically for APIA students. Its Asian American Resource and Cultural Center exists to provide academic and social support to these students.
  • University of Massachusetts Boston is the only qualified four-year institution in the New England area to be considered for AANAPISI funding. Its Student Success Program is dedicated to helping Asian Americans gain admission to the university and then stay enrolled.
  • University of Nevada Las Vegas tied for first place on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 list of colleges with the “best ethnic diversity.” The university meets requirements as an AANAPISI as well as an MSI for Hispanics.

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)

As of 2016, 492 accredited and degree-granting institutions met the requirements to be considered an HSI, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Together, these serve over two million Hispanics. To receive funding, an institution must have 25 percent full-time Hispanic undergraduate enrollment and 50 percent of its students must come from families below the poverty line. Included in this group are 10 research universities. HSIs receive only 69 cents for every dollar going to other colleges per student but manage to have great outcomes for the population they serve.


  • California State University, Fullerton’s population of Hispanic students has been steadily increasing over the years, and is now at 37 percent. Business management and marketing are the two most popular degrees. In 2015, the Education Trust applauded CSUF for its 57.5 percent graduate rate for Latino students.
  • Florida International University in Miami is currently the fourth-largest institution in the United States with nearly 50,000 enrolled students, of which 61 percent are Hispanic. It is designated as a top-tier research university, with more than 190 degree offerings.
  • University of Texas, El Paso has a student body of almost 24,000 students, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic. It is a high-activity research center with a $315 million total research grant portfolio. It offers 72 undergraduate degrees, 74 master’s degrees and 21 doctoral programs.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

In order to be considered an HBCU, the college or university must have been established before 1964 and have a mission to educate African-Americans. There are currently 101 operating HBCUs, and although they awarded nearly 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees to black students, they make up less than three percent of degree-granting postsecondary schools.


  • Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia is the oldest black college for women. With a 77 percent graduation rate – the highest among HBCUs – it far outpaces the 44 percent graduation rate for African-Americans nationally. Spelman prides itself on being a primary producer of black women who go on to earn doctorate degrees in the sciences.
  • Howard University in Washington, DC was founded in 1867. This coed school counts former U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall as one of its most prominent alumni. It’s also very international, with students enrolling from more than 100 countries.
  • Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, is a private university boasting 80 different undergraduate and graduate programs. It maintains over 100 student-run organizations, encompassing everything from Greek organizations to a pharmacy club.

To learn more about HBCUs, check out ACO’s guide on Historically Black Colleges and Universities or 30 HBCUs with the Highest ROI. You can also find scholarships for HBCU students.

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

This type of institution must have at least 10 percent of enrolled undergraduate students identifying as Native American.


  • Montana State University-Northern serves students from four Native American reservations on campus, totaling 13 percent of undergrads. It has a wide range of academic programs from engineering to teacher education.
  • Redlands Community College uses its federal funding to focus on increasing participation and academic success among its Native American student population.
  • Utah State University Eastern-Blanding holds the largest amount of enrolled Native Americans in this group, with 72 percent of the student population. It advertises a full range of programs, from certificates and associate degrees up to doctorates.

Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs)

Colleges and universities that have at least 1,000 undergraduate students and over 40 percent African-American students can qualify as a PBI. They also must have at least 50 percent low-income or first-generation college students. PBI is a newer designation than HBCU, so people tend to be less familiar with these institutions. They have only been recognized by Congress since 2007. Also, unlike HBCUs, most of the 156 PBIs are two-year colleges.


  • Albany Technical College in Georgia has used its most recent PBI grant to expand online learning and increase student support services. Seventy-nine percent of students are black or African-American.
  • Clayton State University in Georgia is 63 percent black and also boasts an ethnically diverse faculty, with 35 percent black or African-American instructors. It offers over 60 undergraduate majors and minors.
  • Trinity College in Washington, D.C. is 67 percent African-American. Its top undergrad majors include nursing, human relations and criminal justice.

Tribal Colleges & Universities (TCUs)

Currently, there are 32 accredited TCUs in the nation, with the majority located in the Midwest and Southwest. Most TCUs are located on reservations and therefore focus heavily on maintaining tribal languages and culture. These institutions differ from NASNTIs in that they are chartered by their respective tribes. They serve approximately 30,000 students in total and consist of mostly technical and community colleges, although 11 TCUs offer bachelor’s degrees. The American Indian College Fund reports that while fewer than 10 percent of American Indian students who go to mainstream universities finish their bachelor’s degree, 86 percent of TCU students complete their degree program.


  • Dine College in Arizona was established in 1968 as the first tribally controlled accredited college in the U.S. It offers certificate, associate degree and bachelor’s degree programs for predominately Navajo students.
  • Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Minnesota offers associate degrees and certificates to all interested students, regardless of background. Credits earned can transfer to other universities, and many students go on to pursue other postsecondary degrees.
  • Oglala Lakota College in South Dakota has an average enrollment of more than 1,800 students pursuing vocational, teaching, nursing and computer degrees, among others. It has degrees at multiple levels, including several master’s programs.


Below are the top five states/territories with the most MSIs, including one institution for each state.

  • California

    Since California is the most populous state in the nation, and a very diverse one, it should come as no surprise that it tops the list for having the most MSIs in a state, with a whopping 139.

    Merritt College

    in Oakland, California

    • DESIGNATION:Dual status; it qualifies as an MSI for both AANAPISI and PBI.
    • GRADUATION RATE:12 percent
    • PERCENTAGE OF MINORITIES:29 percent African-American and 15 percent Asian. Its Hispanic population sits at 29 percent, making this a very diverse school.
    • FUN FACT:Merritt College is part of California’s HBCU Transfer Guarantee Project, which means that for students that qualify academically, a transfer to one of 35 participating HBCUs is guaranteed.
    • ANNUAL NET COST:$7,559

  • Texas

    Texas has 68 MSIs in the state, the majority of which serve the state’s sizable Hispanic population.

    The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

    in Edinburg, Texas

    • DESIGNATION:Hispanic-serving institution
    • GRADUATION RATE:41 percent
    • PERCENTAGE OF MINORITIES:91 percent Hispanic
    • FUN FACT:Rated third in the nation in 2016 for most undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded to Hispanic students by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine.
    • ANNUAL NET COST:$4,250

  • Puerto Rico

    Puerto Rico, a US territory, has 49 MSIs.

    University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras

    • DESIGNATION:Hispanic-serving institution
    • GRADUATION RATE:46 percent
    • PERCENTAGE OF MINORITIES:85 percent Hispanic
    • FUN FACT:UPR-RP grants the largest amount of doctorate degrees to Hispanics in the United States.
    • ANNUAL NET COST:$3,171

  • New York

    New York has 29 minority serving institutions, covering a range of HSI, AANAPISI and PBI-designated schools.

    CUNY Medgar Evers College

    in Brooklyn, New York

    • DESIGNATION:Predominantly black institution
    • GRADUATION RATE:12 percent
    • PERCENTAGE OF MINORITIES:78 percent black or African-American; 13% Hispanic
    • FUN FACT:Medgar Evers’ School of Professional and Community Development focuses on life-long learning and enhancing skills that will help youth and adults in their careers.
    • ANNUAL NET COST:$9,354

  • New Mexico

    New Mexico, with its 27 MSIs, encompasses primarily HSIs but also some TCUs and NASNTI-designated schools.

    New Mexico State University

    in Las Cruces, New Mexico

    • DESIGNATION:Hispanic-serving institution
    • GRADUATION RATE:44 percent
    • PERCENTAGE OF MINORITIES:55 percent Hispanic
    • FUN FACT:In 2017, NMSU was number one in the country for federal funding for science and engineering research and development.
    • ANNUAL NET COST:$9,663

5 Reasons to Go to an MSI

For lower-income students and minorities, it can be a huge boon for your educational and overall life success to attend an MSI. However, even for non-minorities, attending an MSI has its advantages. The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, reports that attending a diverse school can benefit all students by introducing new ideas and challenges that increase problem solving and critical thinking.

Here are five reasons, in no particular order, why attending an MSI can be beneficial to any student.


Race, ethnicity and gender are more diverse at MSIs, meaning that the education you receive will pull from a wider net of knowledge, experiences and perspectives. And even if a school has a larger percentage of a certain group, there is still a great deal of diversity among individual groups and it can be extremely valuable to be exposed to those differences.


Academic support and career prep take on new meanings at MSIs because these schools often focus more on retention and success after graduation than non-MSIs and have the right resources and faculty to cater to minority students’ unique challenges and needs so they can thrive. Professors and administrators are also of similar background which can be motivational and inspirational both inside and outside the classroom, and there are often little to no language barriers.

Greater return on investment

MSIs tend to be some of the most affordable institutions in the nation and income-mobility rates are two to three times higher at MSIs.

Higher graduation rates

According to NSC data, the completion rates are higher at MSIs than the standard graduation rate, especially for full-time students.


Students’ culture is embraced and celebrated at MSIs. As a result, you will receive a more well-rounded education, inside and outside the classroom. Diverse and culturally relevant programs abound in the form of student events, groups and even classes that focus specifically on the minority culture(s) being served.

Q&A with an Expert

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

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 the entire higher education institution hit the mark of 25 percent 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, which 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 or 23 percent Hispanic. We did a large campaign over the summer and discovered we had close to 8 percent 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 percent and CSN became the first HSI in Nevada.

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, having focused interventions that may help them be more successful, and that involves the entire institution.

College of Southern Nevada is quite diverse: 27.7 percent Hispanic, 11.3 percent black, 10 percent 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 ANNAPISI 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.

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 and other programming that helps with tutorial assistance.

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 that had 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.

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 non-minority students who meet admissions requirements away. 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.

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 and live in and be successful in.

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