Enhancing “Servingness”: Principles to Support a Graduate Studies Going Culture among Latinos

Administration January 2024 PREMIUM

Despite the notable growth of Latina/o/x/e students completing graduate and professional studies, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. In order to promote positive outcomes regarding Latina/o/x/e student success in graduate studies, Drs Rodríguez and Núñez emphasize the importance of "servingness" in Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and suggest principles to support a graduate college-going culture.  

In the November 2023 Hispanic Outlook article on Coupling the Latino Educational Pipeline, I (Cristóbal) addressed the unfortunate reality that, according to recent NCES data, Latina/o/x/e students complete graduate and professional studies at half the rate of all other groups. Only 7% of Latina/o/x/e adults above 25 hold a graduate degree, compared to 14% of all Americans in that age group. Despite these relatively low enrollment rates, the Pew Research Center has identified a bright spot, reporting that Latino graduate and professional school enrollment has seen the fastest growth rate among all major racial/ethnic groups. Notably, both Latina/o/x/e men and women reported the highest growth rates in graduate enrollment between 2000-2021, when compared to their Black, Asian, and White colleagues by gender. Among all racial/ethnic and gender groups, Latina/x/e women are the subgroup reporting the largest enrollment change, at 291%. While we have such gains to celebrate, there is also much work to do as a community.

In reality,colleges and universities face the greatest responsibility to advance equitable enrollment and completion of graduate and professional studies for Latina/o/x/e students. Extending the important research addressing Latina/o/x/e undergraduate student equity is an essential departure point for this endeavor, as undergraduate success forges successful academic pathways to graduate studies. The concept of servingness, adapted from literature that I (Anne-Marie) have contributed to on Hispanic Serving Institutions’ (HSIs’) strategies to advance Latina/o/x/e student success (Garcia, Núñez, & Sansone, 2019), has important implications to shape practices that cultivate increased graduate degree enrollment and completion for Latino communities. HSI servingness emphasizes promoting positive outcomes for Latina/o/x/e students in culturally affirming ways. The extent to which an institution enacts servingness can be assessed by examining indicators of:

Academic outcomes, such as persistence, graduation, transfer, course completion, STEM degree completion, and labor market outcomes. 

•  Nonacademic outcomes, such as the development of academic self-concept, leadership identity, racial identity, critical and liberatory consciousness (in the spirit of the work of Paulo Freire), graduate school aspirations, and civic engagement. 

Student experiences, including validation and concepts of belonging, such as interactions with same racial-ethnic peers and Spanish-speaking peers, faculty, and staff, participation in mentoring and support programs, as well as cultural signifiers on campus, like murals by Latinx artists that enhance a welcoming and affirming environment. 

Investment and infrastructures that institutionalize equity, including mission and purpose statements; HSI grant activities; decision-making processes; equity-minded leadership practices and policies; curricular and co-curricular structures; institutional advancement activities. 

Critical compositional diversity of faculty, staff, administrators, and graduate students. 

Community Engagement with and support for local and regional communities. 

Learning with and from HSIs currently implementing these practices can enhance the development of organizational cultures that promote Latina/o/x/e graduate student success. Excelencia in Education hosts an online resource called the Growing What Works database ( that leaders of HSIs and of institutions that want to better serve Latina/o/x/e students can utilize as a resource as they move to servingness.

Coupled with the literature on servingness, research about  college access can also offer insights to expand access for Latina/o/x/e students to graduate school. Anne-Marie and her colleagues, through qualitative case analysis, generated the concept of a college-going culture in high schools that promotes positive college readiness, application, and enrollment patterns, including for Latino communities (Jarsky, McDonough, & Núñez, 2009). The concept of  college culture in high school can arguably be applied to guiding the development of cultures in higher education institutions that promote graduate school enrollment, which could be conceived of as a Latino Graduate Studies Going Culture

As originally conceived, a college-going culture highlights nine guiding principles:

College communication that is clear and consistent among students, teachers, administrators, and families about getting ready for college. 

Clear expectations and goals  regarding postsecondary education that are communicated as part of the school culture. 

Providing comprehensive, updated, and easy to access information and resources to all students, families, and school personnel. 

Comprehensive counseling model around going and preparing for college that ensures all students have interactions with counseling staff. 

Providing preparation and resources for college-focused testing, curricula, and entrance exams (PSAT, SAT, etc.) and college preparation courses (e.g., algebra and advanced placement). 

Faculty Involvement,

Family Engagement, 

College and University Partnerships

Ongoing articulation between counselors and teachers among all schools in a feeder group.

How could these principles inform the development of a Latino Graduate Studies Going Culture? A large partnership of HSIs described in an earlier edition of Hispanic Outlook ( engages in practices that offer an example ( In its work since 2006, the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (, a consortium of over 80 HSIs led by the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), has been aiming to enact servingness to raise Latino attainment in computer science. At the graduate level, this means developing an organizational culture in which opportunities to prepare for graduate school (such as undergraduate research opportunities) are communicated clearly to all students at all stages of their undergraduate education. Second, it means providing students with opportunities to learn about careers and graduate school pathways in computer science, including attending national conferences such as Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) that introduce students to role models and employers connected with Latino communities. Third, it means advising students on taking graduate student entrance exams and applying for fellowships to fund graduate school attendance since financial concerns can pose barriers to considering graduate school for Latino families and communities. 

In leveraging institutional and external resources (such as funding from the National Science Foundation or investments from Google and Microsoft), CAHSI administrators, faculty, staff, and students share collective responsibility for communicating about graduate school opportunities and imparting tools for students to pursue those opportunities. Furthermore, CAHSI’s HSI partners can and do share data with one another to identify which institutions are succeeding in which areas and how they can learn from one another’s successes to forge continuous improvement to serve Latina/o/x/e students. 

Integrating concepts of servingness and a college-going culture to advance a Latino Graduate Studies Going culture can empower institutional leaders to center Latina/o/x/e students in designing and developing organizational approaches to cultivate student success in HSIs and beyond. As more initiatives to promote Latino graduate attainment emerge and evolve, our wisdom about how to support Latina/o/x/e students will grow. It will also be important for funders like federal agencies and private foundations to support, reward, and incentivize organizational behavior that lifts graduate school access and success for Latino communities. 

About the authors

Cristóbal Rodríguez, Ph.D. 

Associate Provost for Equity-Centered Initiatives in Academic Affairs, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Western Michigan University, Chair-elect, Board of Directors, American Association for Hispanics in Higher Education Commissioner, President Biden’s Advisory Commission for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.

Anne-Marie Núñez, Ph.D.

Inaugural Executive Director, Diana Natalicio Institute for Hispanic Student Success

Distinguished Centennial Professor in Educational Leadership and Foundations

The University of Texas at El Paso.

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