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Excelencia in Education Research Looks at Resilience of Universities in Puerto Rico Amid Natural Disasters & Challenges

Excelencia in Education Co-founder & CEO Deborah A. Santiago

Deborah A. Santiago, Co-founder and CEO, Excelencia in Education

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New Report Spotlights Restructuring of Student Support Strategies and Institutional Management from Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to Adapt

This brief is about Puerto Rican HSIs, but also resilience across all HSIs and institutions serving post-traditional students, from which decision makers can learn a great deal. ”
— Deborah A. Santiago, Co-founder and CEO, Excelencia in Education
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES, February 21, 2023 / -- A new report from Excelencia in Education highlights the resilience of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in Puerto Rico as they adapt amid a convergence of challenges to continue serving their students by reimagining recruitment, restructuring their programs and administrations, and investing in enhanced student support services.

Puerto Rican colleges and universities are a bellwether for U.S. mainland institutions that face mounting challenges in serving Latino and other low-income and first-generation students in today’s evolving higher education landscape — especially those in rural communities. Colleges and universities in the continental U.S. facing multiple challenges might learn from the efforts by these HSIs.

The brief, “Institutional Resilience in Puerto Rico: A First Look at Efforts by Puerto Rican HSIs,” examines efforts by universities in Puerto Rico to serve their predominantly Latino student populations in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, an unprecedented series of high-magnitude earthquakes, fiscal austerity, governance changes, demographic shifts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While these challenges are not new or unique to Puerto Rico, their intersection during a short period has required commitment and tenacity from these universities and their students,” said Deborah A. Santiago, Co-Founder and CEO of Excelencia. “This brief is about Puerto Rican HSIs, but also resilience across all HSIs and institutions serving post-traditional students, from which decision makers can learn a great deal. Considering the leadership of Puerto Rican HSIs in creating a ‘new normal’ to serve their students equips all institutions with effective strategies — and it is long overdue.”

For the analysis, Excelencia conducted case studies of five Puerto Rican HSIs: Inter American University of Puerto Rico-Arecibo, Universidad Ana G. Méndez-Gurabo, University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, University of Puerto Rico-Utuado. Each university has experienced enrollment declines and budgetary constraints over the last five years.

The brief identifies four strategies developed by universities in response to this uniquely challenging context:

1. Sustaining institutional management through academic and administrative restructuring to address fiscal constraints.
2. Managing enrollment plans and expectations by pivoting recruitment, expanding offerings to mainland students, and utilizing new mediums such as social media.
3. Supporting students by meeting basic needs and providing wraparound services, including mental health counseling, meal access, and additional financial support.
4. Preparing students for graduation and post-completion, connecting them to Puerto Rico’s workforce and opportunities to continue their education at the graduate level.

Puerto Ricans represent the second largest sub-population of Latinos in the U.S., with over 5 million Puerto Ricans in the continental U.S. and 3.2 million in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has the third largest number of HSIs in the U.S. Over 90 percent of students enrolled in Puerto Rican colleges and universities are Hispanic, many of whom rely on Pell Grants to help pay for their education.

The report marks the second phase of a multi-tiered research project on transformation by colleges and universities in Puerto Rico. It was developed with the support of the Ascendium Education Group.
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