What other colleges can learn from minority-serving institutions

Students 'knew the people in their institution believed in them even more than they believed in themselves'

Majority-white colleges and universities can learn a lot about student success from minority-serving institutions, according to two experts.

Even though minority-serving institutions tend to operate under tight budgets, many of them still manage to support large numbers of low-income, first-generation, and academically underprepared students. Historically black colleges and universities, for example, award a large share of total undergraduate degrees in science, math, and engineering among black students. These institutions also produce more than one-third of the black graduates who eventually earn Ph.D.s in STEM fields.

Marybeth Gasman, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, and Clifton Conrad, a professor of higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, traveled to minority-serving institutions throughout the country to learn what makes them different. The educators collected their findings in a book, "Educating a Diverse Nation: Lessons From Minority-Serving Institutions."

Gasman spoke to the Chronicle of Higher Education about the ways in which minority-serving institutions excel at promoting student success:

They believe in their students

At minority-serving institutions, student success isn't questioned, it's assumed. All students are expected to thrive at these schools.

"The students we talked to, over and over and over, with no exception, told us they knew the people in their institution believed in them even more than they believed in themselves," Gasman says.

Related read: Two ways to help first-generation students navigate your college's 'hidden curriculum'

They create pathways for success

Minority-serving institutions establish defined pathways for students, while offering a wide range of programs. Students are also encouraged to support one another—rather than compete—at each step of the process.

Related read: How well is your college actually doing pathways?

They embrace students' cultural identity

Gasman found that at most minority-serving institutions she visited, students engaged in culturally-relevant problem-solving. For example, students at a black college worked on issues related to economic empowerment in the local community, and students at a tribal college solved problems related to indigenous issues.

Students are also encouraged to take pride in their ethnic and cultural identities. Minority students at majority-white institutions may feel like they have to assimilate, but they are free to be themselves in communities with people who share their culture, race, or ethnicity (McMurtrie, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/3).

Related read: Create a plan for improving diversity, step by step


Like what you're reading?

Keep up with the latest by following EAB on LinkedIn.

Follow us


  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague