San Francisco State: A Case Study of an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution

Four Latino students on graduation day in caps and gownsWith the support and collaboration of the SF State campus over the last two years, we have been examining Latino/a students’ experience, attitudes, preparation, and outcomes on our own campus as the campus becomes a Hispanic Serving Institution.

Latinos/as are the fastest growing group of students in the Bay Area. There have been significant improvements in college-going rates and high school graduation, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of Latino students applying to SF State and other colleges in the Bay Area. The number of Latino/a students doubled on most campuses in the last 10 years, though they were met with a budget crisis and declining admission rates.

Report cover Our initial report identifies systemic issues that Latina/o students face to achieve a baccalaureate degree at San Francisco State University (SF State). Each chapter presents a review of the current research and literature surrounding Latinas/os, key indicators of student experience and outcomes, and examples of promising practices and policy recommendations. In the fall of 2015 we will conduct more student focus groups, Latina/o faculty and staff. Moreover, what we learn and prioritize at various community fora at SF State and other campuses will inform the findings and recommendations presented in the final report.


The following are some of the barriers Latino students are confronting at SF State:

  • Many majors are becoming impacted and waiting lists are the norm for most courses. One of every five Latino men and 30% of Latina women responded they had not been able to get into a major/minor because it was impacted, and 50% responded that they are not able to get into a class in their major/minor because the class was full at least once per semester.
  • At SF State, full-time tuition rose 103% in six years, from $3,166 in 2006-07 to $6,440 by 2012-13. This has been further compounded by the increasing gap between college costs and available financial aid.  Moreover, the process for applying and receiving financial aid is difficult, time-sensitive and predominantly online. Less than half of Latino students or their parents in the US had knowledge of prices and/or financial aid prior to entering college and a quarter of families still do not have access to the internet. Consequently, many Latino students do not receive financial aid they qualify for or receive less than other applicants.
  • Two thirds of Latino first-time freshmen need remediation and many need remediation in multiple subjects. Most students are completing remediation in one year, but there are significant barriers for students who need remediation in multiple subjects – 46% are unable to complete them in one year. Math remediation is also a serious challenge – 15% of students are not able to complete it in one year.
  • Students feel disconnected on campus. They need to be able to engage with faculty who care about their academic success and have time to adequately support them. They need to participate in meaningful research and other academic activities, as well as have access to safe zones. These safe zones are necessary for building community, engaging with peers, and receiving mentoring and support that is critical for academic success. Most students are not engaged, which isolate and disconnect them from their education.  They are not participating in high impact activities, like community service learning or research with faculty. And most are not seeking help even when they need it.
  • Most students on campus agree that SF State offers opportunities to interact and that the campus is strongly committed to diversity.  But fewer agree that SF State has improved their ability to interact comfortably with people of other racial/ethnic and cultural groups. The difference in these results may suggest that students recognize opportunities to learn about diversity but do not take part in activities that would facilitate cross-racial and cross-cultural interactions.
  • A significant number of students on campus expressed witnessing (50% of African Americans and a third of Latinos) and experiencing discrimination (30% of African Americans and 18% of Latinos) on campus, feeling mistreated or placed at a disadvantage (20% of African Americans and 10% of Asians).  But few know about the procedures for addressing instances of discrimination and only a few have reported cases of discrimination.
  • Latinos are only 9% of the faculty, 5 % of administrators, 15% of the staff on campus even though 27% of the students are Latinos. Faculty and staff need to reflect the experience and life of Latinas/os. Students need role models, and Latina/o faculty and staff could model for students how to navigate the college experience.