Juntos Abroad: Boosting Internationalization at Hispanic-Serving Institutions

Hispanic Community February 2024 PREMIUM

It still remains a challenge to address the underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latino/Latinx students in study abroad programs, particularly at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Some Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) have already put in place initiatives that may help increase the Hispanic/Latino/Latinx student participation and promote inclusive global academic experiences.

The benefits of study abroad programs have been widely reported to include the development of intercultural competencies, language acquisition, and higher GPAs after participation. Although contemporary efforts have moderately improved student diversity, far too many historically underrepresented minority students continue to miss out on international academic opportunities. Regarding Latinx students, the latest available data in the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s Open Doors report show that they only make up 11.9% of students studying abroad. The accessibility issue for this demographic is especially pronounced at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). According to IIE, HSIs only account for approximately 7% of all Latinx students going abroad. Since these colleges and universities have a high concentration of Latinx students on campus—a minimum of 25% of the student body—a wide range of higher education stakeholders must collaborate to improve HSI-Latinx participation rates. Before doing so, institutions should be committed to executing an intentional policy to achieve this goal.  

Internationalization: An Overview

Internationalization broadly refers to the strategies post-secondary institutions employ to integrate a global dimension into their campus. More specifically, this includes international partnerships, student mobility, visiting faculty, research collaboration, and curriculum diversification. In an increasingly globally interconnected system, these types of international education experiences are critical for the competitiveness of colleges and universities. However, internationalization efforts are often characterized by ineffective implementation and one-sided support from single units on campus (e.g., study abroad or international student services offices). As campus-wide initiatives compete for limited resources, administrators may exclude internationalization as an institutional priority. 

To begin reverting this trend, the following are a series of tangible steps institutions can take to elevate internationalization as a campus imperative: 

Integrate internationalization into strategic plans. As the guiding framework for an institution’s operations, strategic plans need to explicitly mention the measures administrators will undertake to internationalize the campus, the stakeholders involved, and the intended outcomes. An important component here is the unequivocal support from senior leadership demonstrating a commitment to internationalization, from financial support to how an institution will assess its progress. 

Create an internationalization task force. This institutional strategy is most effective as a centralized initiative that originates from governance-level positions. Nevertheless, it also requires active involvement from others on campus and a clear delegation of responsibilities to key stakeholders such as mid-level administrators, faculty, and students. A task force provides internationalization plans with diverse perspectives, equitable decision-making, and insight into the priorities of various units on campus.

Identify external stakeholders to support internationalization. Public and private sector entities are critical partners in this process. Institutions should seek to leverage partnerships for general support and, more importantly, funding sources. One relevant example includes the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which is an alliance between the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassies, Partners of the Americas, corporations, and foundations. Other organizations that institutions can collaborate with include the Institute of International Education, Diversity Abroad, and NAFSA.

Setting achievable and realistic internationalization goals. The process of embedding a global dimension into various components of higher education should be considered a continuum rather than an end goal. As such, institutions should focus on attainable goals that consider local contexts like inbound-outbound student mobility target numbers or the capacity to host global symposiums by visiting faculty. 


Equity-centered Internationalization at HSIs: Lessons Learned from HBCUs

Even though Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) differ in their historical missions to enroll underrepresented minority students, current internationalization efforts can provide insight into best practices. At Howard University, the innovative HU/COL Avanza initiative contains 2 key components of internationalization: an international partnership and student exchanges. First, it features a mutually beneficial collaboration between universities across two nations, revealing how institutions can implement DEI-focused internationalization. It also includes a student mobility component that focuses on Black student identity by encouraging connections to the global African diaspora, in this case, between students from Colombia and the United States. A closer look at HU/COL Avanza shows that this strategy owes its foundations to an emerging concept in the field of international education known as Black Internationalization. This framework encompasses five specific pillars: 1) collaborative program design, 2) equitable partnerships, 3) diverse destinations, 4) accessible pathways for international students, and 5) curriculum centering marginalized voices. Thus, it can serve as a powerful example for other MSIs. In order to dramatically increase accessibility and create a critical mass of Latinx student participation in study abroad programs, HSIs should develop a similar framework. In other words, the institutions that enroll a minimum of 25% Latinx students must implement an internationalization strategy that promotes collaboration with other HSIs, democratizes international partnerships, encourages non-traditional study abroad destinations, considers the needs of inbound international students, and enhances the curriculum to better reflect Latinx identity. When considering study abroad programs specifically, one way to increase HSI-Latinx student participation is by following existing models. An example includes the structure of “Juntos: Chicago Hispanic-Serving Institutions Abroad,” which is centered on the following pillars:

Interdisciplinary curriculum with a service-learning component 

Multi-campus HSI collaboration of a short-term, faculty-led program

Partnerships between HSIs and private-public sector study abroad organizations

As HSIs seek to not simply enroll Latinx students but to intentionally serve them, one strategy is to institutionalize internationalization through an equity lens. As the fastest growing institutional type in the United States, these colleges and universities have the unique opportunity to foster the next generation of Latinx global citizens. Through internationalization plans that center Latinx students, their identities, and lived experiences, international academic experiences have the potential to become the norm for historically marginalized scholars. 


About the author

Hernando Sevilla-Garcia is a DEI Consultant at EY and doctoral student at UCLA as a Gates Millennium Scholar. Currently a Teaching Fellow at Stanford, he was previously an Adjunct Faculty at Saint Xavier University and Assistant Director at IES Abroad.  


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