Skip to content

AERA Presidential Sessions Highlight UCLA Expertise, Commitment to Equity

By Joanie Harmon
UCLA Professor of Education Sylvia Hurtado

Sylvia Hurtado will share the vision and innovation that supports “The Role of HSIs in Advancing Inclusive Science and Research.”

Among more than 2,500 presentations at this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies will be represented in 13 Presidential Sessions, showcasing the University’s expertise in the most pressing issues in education today.

UCLA Professor of Education Sylvia Hurtado will present her work on, “The Role of HSIs in Advancing Inclusive Science and Research” on Saturday, Apr. 13, 9:35-11:05 a.m., as part of a Presidential Session titled, “Enacting and Sustaining Equity-Centered Work in Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Organizational, Federal, and Systemic Levers of Change.” A scholar of educational equity, Hurtado will address inclusive science initiatives that align with intentionally changing institutional culture and identity in preparing to serve Latinx, low-income, and diverse students. Her research includes an examination of new efforts at institutions that are becoming more research-intensive and/or research-intensive institutions that are now reaching enrollment thresholds, affording more opportunity to broaden HSI initiatives in many more areas, including graduate education and pathways to advanced career success.

In 2017, Hurtado was appointed to the HSI Task Force as co-chair and has serving as special advisor on Latinx issues to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block since 2020. She has been instrumental in efforts to designate the UC-system of nine universities – and UCLA in particular – as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and works alongside the HSI director in the Chancellor’s Office as well as with Task Force co-chairs and committees. A professor in the SEIS division of Higher Education and Organizational Change (HEOC), she discusses here the challenges of designating institutions as HSIs and the academic and career potential of serving the most rapidly growing population in California.

The need for HSIs has been a long time coming. What are what are some of the factors that make this urgent now, both in California and throughout the nation?

Sylvia Hurtado: Basically, we've done things with a very different population and now that it’s changing, we need to think carefully about what is needed. The Latino population continues to grow and in fact, in California in particular, 53 % of the high school graduates are Latinx. If you think about large Los Angeles schools, about 75% of students are Latinx. So the question is, how are colleges becoming more culturally responsive, addressing their needs specifically?

Currently, the federal government provides monies for institutions that are educating large numbers of Latinx, first-generation, low- income students. Now, there are about 579 institutions that are designated HSIs or are eligible to become HSIs. That means by their enrollment, they have at least 25% Latinx [students] and a high proportion of low-income students. In the UC campuses alone, Merced is already the same rate as the high school graduation rate for Latinx, which is 53 percent, and in the coming three years they expect that the last few UCs -  Berkeley. San Diego, and UCLA - will become HSIs as well. Five [UC campuses] are HSIs. The sixth, UC Davis, is in the middle of determining it, because with the pandemic their enrollment dropped a bit and now it's recovering. There was also a question of whether you can count undocumented students in the past. You could not. That was a change both the federal [and state] governments made because they realized a lot of students that are being served by particular institutions need to be recognized.

Federal funding comes to the institution, but it's a competitive grant. Once you achieve the threshold and you're eligible, then you're eligible for many federal agencies that offer additional funding to researchers and to individuals that are building programs for students. It will actually help us to build more programs that are focused - not just on completing undergraduate [degrees], but also en route to graduate school. There are a number of initiatives specifically focused on pathways to graduate school that are going to be very useful for our students in terms of developing new programming.

How can more HSIs open doors, both academically and in careers, that were hard to reach for low-income, first-generation Latino students?

Hurtado: A lot of Latino students are interested in science. In fact, very competitive campuses get a large number of [Latino] students interested in STEM areas. That’s a huge area that I've been working on for almost 20 years, in terms of improving representation and diversifying the STEM workforce. There are a lot of initiatives within that, from mentoring to revising of curriculum to building inclusive science programs. There are a lot of things that campuses we've been studying for a while now are doing that are really exciting.

This is what I’ll talk about at AERA for a bit, about inclusive science. What does that look like for institutions that serve these students? How are they changing the curriculum, their partnerships, their assumptions about students’ racial/ethnic and science identities? How are they providing role models and mentors for students?

I do want to say that UCLA is sixth in the nation in terms of producing Latinx undergraduates who go on to earn their PhD in STEM. The top five are HSIs and before long, we’ll be an HSI.  We could be producing even more Latinx scientists for the nation. One thing is exposing students to broader areas, which is done through undergraduate research experiences. They don't have to follow research in particular, but to have an appreciation for science, or at least how you conduct research, I think is important, and that opens up pathways for advanced degrees.

A big investment has been in STEM, but [one] example … the Mellon Foundation has put monies into UC institutions that are HSIs and the humanities because of the cultural preservation and continuation that has to happen, whether it's music, art, literature, etc., all of that to make sure that [the teaching of those disciplines are] also responsive to the population. Students are influenced by their teachers and so, education has always been a a top choice and it continues to be. But for the most part, students are doing what their peers are doing. There is a large number in psychology [and] biology. They are also pursuing a number of fields that they think are lucrative. Many come from low-income families and so they look into business and economics, other area[s] that are attracting a lot of students these days.

What are some of the challenges to designating an HSI, and what have been some of the triumphs so far in this process?

Hurtado: I think one of the biggest challenges is helping the institution to realize this could be a change of identity of their institution. In other words, it's not so much that institutions are opposed to diversity or to serving growing populations, but [need to think] about how do we break our typical patterns and molds. Does this require more outreach? Does this require more laying out the steps to get to a place? Whether you're a faculty member or running student programs, you have to question: Am I really reaching out? Are there ways that we can get better at this?

If you're at a successful place like UCLA, you think, “Oh, we're doing everything we should.” Well, in a way, we're not. We need to be constantly reflective of what we do, so that we are better serving students. That is probably the biggest challenge, is rethinking what we're doing to better serve students in every way we can, particularly low-income, first- generation students and those who have been underrepresented in higher education for quite a while.

You have to think about how you train the next generation of educators [and] administrators in higher education to think more broadly about how [to] serve differently. For the most part, lots of campuses still have this very middle-class assumption that students know these things, they find their way, and they are smart. They are smart, no question. But [there needs to be] a level of support that says, you are included. We're looking out for you. You belong here. Those are key messages that we want to make sure our campuses are [giving].

I’m going to talk at AERA about some of the wins we’re seeing from the research. We are studying campuses that are doing better than expected for the number of low-income, first-generation groups and other underrepresented groups they recruit, based on all the indicators. We went to find out what were they doing, and a lot of them were doing quite a bit of innovation. They were strategic about their programs, using evidence-based practices, recommitting to diversity and serving local communities.

I'm also studying how institutions are [implementing] those innovations. They were hiring people who were more sensitive to these populations, [who] had a strong interest in ensuring that HSI goals were met at the institution. But there are other campuses that are thinking about how faculty talk about teaching and serving a very different group of students than they have been exposed to in the past. If you have some good ideas and you're willing to restructure, there is going to be federal funding or even private foundation funding to help you get there.

Where is UCLA in the HSI designation process?

Hurtado: We're very happy about the progress that has been made in key areas. It’s taken a lot of work but it's great, because it started more as a grassroots [movement]. Chancellor Block was a real champion and advocate in moving forward and charging the group to come up with recommendations. It took us about three years to come up with our report because it was during COVID, but once it was released we had a great blueprint for exactly what we needed to do. The faculty were appointed first, and then staff were appointed to serve. We are now working with various units in terms of implementing all the recommendations from the HSI report.

We hope to have a Latinx Student Success Center. We will be the last campus in the UC system to do this, but we’re excited because we just got foundation money to start it and and the okay from the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt to go ahead and start recruiting a director. That is historically significant for UCLA. The Latino Success Center will help center some of the academic initiatives, but also faculty will have to be engaged in working with developing programs for students, and staff can focus some services in the Center.

Right now, Gene has set [the goal of] 2025 for achieving enrollment thresholds, but that depends on our admissions. Every year, we're watching those numbers. We have to maintain our [HSI enrollment requirement] for one year. This year, we did apply for AANAPISI [Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions Program] and HSI to meet eligibility. We've met the AANAPISI percentages, which is only about 10% for API students, but now we need to reach 25% Latino student enrollment. We also have to have more Pell Grant recipients, we are hoping the aid and scholarships we are able to offer will bring more students. Once that happens, we have to maintain [those numbers] for one year and then we are officially designated, enabling us to apply for grants from a host of federal agencies focused on assisting minority-serving institutions

We hope that we will meet our 2025 goal. You don't just become [an HSI] and that's it. You have to carry all your initiatives through, so it's really the beginning, not the end. The most exciting [aspect] of this HSI work is that you see innovation happening. People are saying, “Yes, we ought to do this better.” That is exciting because they are going to be able to meet the needs of this population and advance them. It's been great to be able to use my research in practice and to work with a lot of great people across campus that see the vision and want to move this forward.

The following is a list of AERA Presidential Sessions featuring UCLA faculty and students, as well as UCLA alumni at other institutions, as designated by an asterisk.

Visit this link for the complete list of AERA Presidential Sessions. Please check the AERA website regularly for schedule updates.

Wednesday, April 10, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Benjamin Franklin High School Pre-Conference School – Off-Site Visit

Benjamin Franklin High School, 550 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19130, Lobby

Chair: Tyrone C. Howard

This event is limited to 50 participants. Benjamin Franklin High School is a brief 15-minute walk from the Convention Center. Those seeking to attend will need to register through the registration portal. 

Registrants for this visit will assemble at the Pennsylvania Convention Center no later than 9:30 am to walk to the high school with a guide. Those needing transportation assistance should note that in the registration portal.

Thursday, April 11, 2:30-4:00 p.m.

Lessons and Reflections from Ghana: Toward Justice and Freedom in the United States Education System

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201A

Chair: Tyrone C. Howard

Participants: Jaleel R. Howard, Earl J. Edwards, Tr’Vel Lyons, University of Southern California*; Gene F McAdoo, Keara L. Williams

Thursday, April 11, 4:20- 5:50 p.m.

Complicating Black Fatherhood as a Site of Educational Theorizing and Practice

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200 - Room 201C

Discussant: Tyrone C. Howard

Thursday, April 11, 4:20- 5:50 p.m.

Learning from New Research on Large Scale Efforts to Disrupt Racial Injustices in Education

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200 - Room 201A

Chair: Joseph P. Bishop

Participants: Angela James, Lucrecia Santibanez, Olivia E. Obeso, Brian Huff, Mary-Louise Leger

Thursday, April 11, 4:20-5:50 p.m.

Toward the Fulfillment of Full Personhood: The Persistent Invisibility of Latinx Communities Across Institutions and Educational Scholarship 3.0

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201B

Participants: Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, Anne-Marie Nunez, University of Texas - El Paso*

Gina Ann Garcia, University of California – Berkeley*

Discussant: Dolores Delgado Bernal, Loyola Marymount University*

Friday, April 12, 11:25 a.m.-12:55 p.m.

Researching the Reparations in Schools: Urban Youth as Researchers of School Quality

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201B;

Participant: Laurence Tan

Friday, April 12, 3:05- 4:35 p.m.

Scholarship that Befits a Democracy: Disrupting Educational Inequality through the Scholarship of Mike Rose

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200 - Room 201B

Participant: Wasserman Dean Christina Christie

Saturday, April 13, 7:45-9:15 a.m.

Troubling Gender and Sexuality: Meditations on Performances of (Un)gendering in Black Educational Spaces

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201A;

Chair: Tyrone C. Howard; Participant: Gene F. McAdoo

Saturday, April 13, 9:35-11:05 a.m.

Enacting and sustaining equity-centered work in Hispanic- Serving Institutions: Organizational, Federal, and Systemic Levers of Change

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 202 AB

Chair: Anne-Marie Nunez, University of Texas - El Paso*

Participants: Gina Ann Garcia, University of California – Berkeley*; Sylvia Hurtado Discussant: Anne-Marie Nunez, University of Texas - El Paso*

Saturday, April 13, 1:15-2:45 p.m.

W.E.B. Du Bois in Our Times: Toward Racial Justice in Education in the 21st Century

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201C;

Participant: Eddie R. Cole

Saturday, April 13, 3:05- 4:35 p.m.

The 27th Conversations With Senior Scholars on Advancing Research and Professional Development Related to Black Education

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 204 AB

Participants: Walter R. Allen, Tyrone C. Howard

Sunday, April 14, 9:35- 11:05 a.m.

Centering Black Children in Education: Revolutionizing K-12 and Higher Institutions and Research Toward Our Collective Liberation

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201B;

Participant: Tyrone C. Howard

Sunday, April 14, 11:25 a.m. to 12:55 p.m.

The Experiences of Foster Youth of Color: Interrogating Carceral Systems Toward (Re)Imagining Educational Opportunity

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 200, Room 201C;

Participants: Matthew Ruderman, Brenda Tully, Audra Langley, Tyrone C. Howard

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Hurtado