Frequently Asked Questions

What are Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)?

Institutions are designated as minority-serving institutions (MSIs) based on either their primary mission or origin or the percentage of minoritzed undergraduate students of color enrolled at the institution. In total, there are seven categories of MSIs recognized by the U. S. Department of Education (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2007).

Status as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) was granted legislatively to institutions based on the primary mission and origin of these institutions as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and Equity in Education Land-Grant Status Act of 1994. Status as an HBCU was designated by congress to accredited institutions founded prior to 1964 whose primary mission was the education of African Americans. Similarly, TCUs were institutions designated by congress that serve predominately American Indian and Alaska Native students.

The remaining MSIs are designated based on the percentage of minoritized undergraduate students of color served by the institution. Generally, institutions are designated as:

  • Predominately black institutions (PBIs) if at least 40% of total enrollment is African American/Black,
  • Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) if at least 25% of total enrollment is Hispanic,
  • Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving institutions (AANAPISIs) if at least 10% of total enrollment falls in those categories, or
  • Alaskan Native and/or Native Hawaiian-Serving Institution (ANNHIs) if at least 20% of total enrollment falls in those categories (Center for Minority Serving Institutions, n.d.a).

Institutions not otherwise categorized, but whose combined enrollment of minoritized undergraduates exceeds 50%, are sometimes referred to as other minority-serving institutions (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2008). Note that outside of HBCUs and TCUs the definitions and titling of each designation can vary across federal agencies, funding opportunities, and research.

What are Minority-Serving Community Colleges (MSCCs)?

MSCCs are two-year MSIs. Over half of HSIs are community colleges, and approximately 80% of two-year HSIs are in urban communities (Santiago & Andrade, 2010). The numbers of MSCCs are ever evolving as designation, with the exception of HBCUs and TCUs, largely depends on enrollment and sustainment of a critical mass of a particular racial/ethnic group. As of 2016, 321 community colleges in the nation were federally designated MSIs (15 private and 306 public community colleges, Center for Minority Serving Institutions, n.d.b).

Who attends MSIs/MSCCs?

Roughly, one-fifth of all undergraduates attend MSIs, including large proportions of underrepresented minoritized students of color who may otherwise not enroll in postsecondary education (Aragon & Zamani, 2002; Gasman & Nguyen, 2014; Núñez, Hurtado, & Galdeano, 2015). The same holds true for minoritized students of color attending MSCCs, particularly in metropolitan areas (Hagedorn, Chi, Cepeda, & McLain, 2007). In such areas, where there is a critical mass of minoritized students of color, there are greater numbers of predominately Black community colleges and two-year HSIs.

Why examine MSCCs in Illinois?

Within the Midwest region, the State of Illinois has the largest number of MSCCs. There are 14 MSCCs in Illinois, 10 that are Hispanic-serving institutions, 5 that are predominately black institutions, and 2 that are Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-Serving institutions. We focus on MSCCs because these institutions overwhelmingly serve as the primary pathway into postsecondary education for historically underrepresented and underserved students, particularly minoritized students of color.

Why examine STEM fields in MSCC?

MSIs provide an important pathway into STEM fields for minoritized students of color, but there is a gap in the literature on the role of MSCCs. However, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been shown to be a critical pathway for African American STEM graduates. In total, 20% of African American undergraduates attend an HBCU (Gasman & Nguyen, 2016). In addition, eight of the top twenty institutions awarding science and engineering bachelor’s degrees to African Americans are HBCUs (Gasman & Nguyen, 2016).

Additional Resources


Aragon, S. R., & Zamani-Gallaher, E. M. (2002). Promoting access and equity through minority serving institutions. In M. C. Brown (Ed.), Equity and Access in Higher Education: Changing the Definition of Educational Opportunity, (Readings on Equal Education, Volume 18, pp. 23-50). New York: AMS Press.

Center for Minority Serving Institutions. (n.d.a). What are MSIs? Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

Center for Minority Serving Institutions. (n.d.b). MSI directory. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

Gasman, M., & Nguyen, T-H. (2014). Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Leading our nation’s effort to improve the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline. Texas Education Review, 2(1), 75-89.

Gasman, M., & Nguyen, T-H. (2016). Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Leaders in STEM. Philadelphia, PA: Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Hagedorn, L. S., Chi, W. Y., Cepeda, R. M., & McLain, M. (2007). An investigation of critical mass: The role of Latino representation in the success of urban community college students. Research in Higher Education, 4, 73-91.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). Characteristics of minority-serving institutions and minority undergraduates enrolled in these institutions. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

Núñez, A. M., Hurtado, S., & Galdeano, E. C. (Eds.). (2015). Hispanic-serving Institutions: Advancing research and transformative practice. New York: Routledge.

Santiago, D. A., & Andrade, S.J. (2010). Emerging Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs): Serving Latino students. Washington, DC: Excelencia in Education.