Key takeaways

  • Minority serving institutions, or MSIs, are made up of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISIs).
  • With over 700 in the country, MSIs make up about 14% of U.S. degree-granting institutions and have over five million students enrolled.
  • Despite government support, MSIs are largely underfunded, so it is important to secure proper funding.
  • Ways to pay for MSIs include scholarships, grants, work-study programs, federal student loans, and private student loans.

Minority serving institutions, or MSIs, are colleges and universities whose primary focus is to serve students from underrepresented backgrounds and promote their advancement. These include historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISIs).

MSIs are highly diverse, culturally rich, and tend to have close-knit communities, all of which can contribute to a well-rounded college experience. With college deadlines approaching, you may be thinking about paying to attend an MSI. These are some considerations to keep in mind when applying to these schools.

Key HBCU statistics

Bankrate insights
  • There are currently 107 HBCUs in the country, spread amongst 19 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • As of 2021, there were 279,000 students enrolled in HBCUs nationwide, of whom 24 percent were non-Black students.
  • Acceptance rates vary greatly among HBCUs. For instance, Tuskegee University only accepts 30 percent of applicants, while Alabama State University accepts 97 percent of applicants.
  • Most HBCUs require students to have a GPA of 2.5 and an SAT score of 900 or higher to get in. The average GPA for high school students in the U.S. is 3.0, while the average SAT score is 1028.
  • Around 73 percent of students attending HBCUs are Pell Grant-eligible, meaning they come from low-income backgrounds, while roughly 52 percent are first-generation college students.
  • HBCUs only represent 3 percent of all four-year nonprofit institutions but enroll 10 percent of all Black students. They also confer 15 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 25 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees received by Black Americans.
  • It costs students 27 percent less to attend HBCUs compared to other institutions. In fact, students at HBCUs pay an average of $25,412 for their cost of attendance versus $35,049, which is the average students pay at comparable non-HBCU colleges.
  • HBCUs have an average graduation rate of about 35 percent, while the national average is 64 percent. Some HBCUs boast much higher rates, such as Spelman College (74 percent) and Howard University (70 percent).
  • Black students’ graduation rates are about the same at both HBCUs and non-HBCU institutions.
  • HBCUs produce 80 percent of the nation’s Black judges, as well as half of the country’s Black doctors and lawyers.
  • On average, HBCU graduates working full-time can earn an additional $927,000 in income throughout their careers compared to Black students attending non-HBCU institutions and those without a college degree.

HBCU meaning and cultural impact

Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are higher education institutions founded before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Their main focus is educating Black or African American students, but as time has passed, these institutions have opened their doors to students from all backgrounds. Non-Black students now represent 24 percent of HBCUs’ student body.

HBCUs help advance their graduates’ social and economic mobility by offering affordable education to low-income and underrepresented students. This, in turn, is a step forward in bridging the racial wealth gap.

In fact, a report by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) shows Black HBCU graduates working full-time can earn about $927,000 more throughout their career compared to Black students who graduated from a non-HBCU institution.

The report also found that HBCUs are responsible for producing 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black doctors, and 50 percent of Black lawyers — all high-paying careers.

Another report from the Urban Institute found that Black students who attended HBCUs felt more satisfied with their overall college experience than their peers who attended non-HBCU institutions. They were also more likely to think their highest level of education was worth the cost.

It’s also worth noting that many HBCUs have low student-to-faculty ratios. Students may have more opportunities to get mentorship from their professors and create close-knit relationships with their peers, which fosters a better learning environment.

“I believe that these institutions have come to hold a new meaning and significance for today’s youth, with many gravitating decidedly toward them out of wanting to embrace the cultural shift we’re experiencing,” says Briana B. Franklin, co-founder, president and CEO of nonprofit The Prosp(a)rity Project.

“For instance, it used to be said that going to an HBCU was creating a false sense of reality since ‘the world is not all predominantly Black.’ But, with there being a massive uptick in Black corporate leadership, entrepreneurship and social investment in Black-serving causes, the graduates coming out of these institutions are, in many cases, going from one pro-Black environment to another, which is transformative in so many ways,” she adds.

Key minority serving institutions statistics

Bankrate insights
  • There are over 700 federally designated minority serving institutions (MSIs) across the country.
  • MSIs represent about 14 percent of all degree-granting institutions in the U.S., and they enroll nearly 30 percent of the nation’s college undergraduates.
  • There are 35 fully-accredited TCUs in the U.S., most of which are located around the Midwest and Southwest.
  • TCUs currently enroll over 32,000 students. Almost 80 percent identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, and nearly half are enrolled part-time.
  • In 2021, resident students at TCUs paid a median of $3,510 in tuition and fees, which is 67 percent less than the national cost of college tuition, which is $11,980.
  • TCUs conferred 2,311 degrees in 2021; of these, 69.5% of them were awarded to male students, while 30.5% were awarded to female students.
  • There are 572 HSIs in the U.S., spread amongst 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
  • Most HSIs are two-year or four-year public institutions and enroll undergraduates from all races and ethnicities, although Hispanic or Latino students represent almost half of their population.
  • HSIs enroll 66 percent of the nation’s Hispanic or Latino students and have higher retention rates than the national average (67 percent versus 66 percent).
  • HSIs’ full-time students have lower graduation rates than the national average (43 percent versus 64 percent). However, most Latino students enroll part-time — meaning they aren’t captured by federal data.
  • AANAPISIs only represent 5.1 percent of the nation’s colleges, but they enroll close to 40 percent of all Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi-American undergraduates in the U.S.
  • The graduation rate of full-time students at four-year public AANAPISIs is 87.9 percent, which is much higher than the national average of 63 percent at public universities.
  • AANAPISIs serve some of the highest-need Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. For instance, the University of Hawaii at Hilo serves communities with a poverty rate of 20 percent, which is almost twice the national average of 12 percent.

Minority serving institutions meaning and cultural impact

Minority serving institutions, or MSIs, are colleges and universities dedicated to serving students from underrepresented groups. These institutions include not only HBCUs but also TCUs, HSIs and AANAPISIs. They enroll over five million students nationwide.

An American Council for Education (ACE) analysis found that MSIs are key to providing affordable access to higher education for students of color. Many of these students come from low-income backgrounds and are first-generation college students.

Plus, these institutions contribute to underrepresented students’ social and economic mobility by letting them move into the upper-middle class at a higher rate than non-MSIs.

“MSIs play a critical role for students of color. For example, HSIs educate over 65 percent of all Hispanics in higher education. HSIs also enroll a large number of black and Native students,” says Deborah A. Santiago, CEO and co-founder of Excelencia in Education.

“Effective MSIs bring an asset-based approach to serving students and are intentional in ensuring students of color are included in the practices that can advance the students’ success,” she adds.

Should you attend an HBCU or another minority serving institution?

Attending an HBCU, TCU, AANAPISI or an HSI has many benefits, especially if you come from one of the underrepresented groups these institutions serve. First, there are some things to keep in mind before you apply.

First, because many of these institutions primarily target specific segments of the population, many are small. So, if you want the big campus experience, you may want to look elsewhere.

There’s also the issue of funding. It is no secret that HBCUs, as well as other minority serving institutions, are largely underfunded. Although this may be changing soon — at least for HBCUs, thanks, in part, to the Biden administration’s $2.7 billion investment — it’s still a big issue.

“Though I graduated from a predominantly white institution and don’t have the HBCU experience, I have many close friends and relatives who did attend the former and have heard many stories of the lack of financial and infrastructural resources on campus that worsen the student experience,” Franklin says.

These include outdated dorms and facilities, inefficient administrations and inadequate financial aid resources — all of which can frustrate some students.

However, this is not true of all MSIs. Carefully evaluate your choices before applying to ensure you’re attending a school that you feel comfortable with and aligns with what you want from a college experience.

How to pay for college

Going to college is a big investment, regardless of the institution you choose. Knowing your financial aid options can not only help you reduce the cost of college but will also allow you to concentrate on what’s important: getting your degree.

Scholarships and grants

Both scholarships and grants are a type of gift aid, meaning you don’t have to pay them back. Most grants are given based on your financial need, while scholarships can be both merit-based and need-based.

Many are designated students from specific historically underrepresented groups, including Black and Latino students.

You can contact your school’s financial aid office to find out which scholarships and grants you may qualify for. You can also check out a scholarship search engine, such as the one offered by the College Board.

Work-study programs

Work-study jobs are a type of federal aid awarded based on need. Unlike taking a part-time job, getting a federal work-study job won’t impact your financial aid package in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Education, so it won’t affect how much aid you receive.

These jobs can be on or off campus, depending on what’s available. They’re awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. You can indicate your interest while filling out the FAFSA.

Federal student loans

If you need to borrow money to pay for school, federal student loans should be your first choice. They tend to have lower interest rates than private student loans and offer other benefits. These include income-driven repayment plans and access to forgiveness programs.

Plus, you don’t need to pass a credit check to qualify for Direct Loans. But you must be in good academic standing and enrolled in school at least part-time. To apply for these, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA.

Private student loans

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans are issued based on credit. You’ll need a good credit score and a stable source of income to qualify for the best terms and interest rates or have a co-signer who meets these requirements.

Although private student loans lack the protections federal student loans have, they can help bridge the financial gap when other forms of aid fall short. Some are even available to students with bad credit or little credit history.