Colleges serving Latino students struggle with infrastructure needs

A new study from the Government Accountability Office found that postsecondary institutions that cater to large Latino student populations face severe infrastructure needs, including massive, multimillion-dollar backlogs in facility and maintenance projects and issues with digital and internet access.

Researchers at GAO surveyed 169 colleges and universities in the United States, including Puerto Rico, and found a system plagued by “extensive facility needs,” including lack of maintenance, delayed repairs for severe weather events and deferred facility renovations.

The institutions also expressed a need for updated digital infrastructure, such as internet access, cybersecurity and hybrid learning facilities.

Hispanic-serving institutions, or HSIs, are colleges or universities whose enrollment is made up of at least 25% Latino students, and they play a pivotal role in the Latino community. In the 2021-2022 academic year, 574 HSIs enrolled over 2 million Latinos, accounting for 60% of all Hispanic college students, according to GAO.

But the crucial mission of HSIs is complicated by struggles to maintain and update their facilities, the report states, and the issue is exacerbated by difficulties to secure funding as well as rising construction costs and declining tuition revenue.

Many HSIs struggle to keep up with maintenance and repair needs, according to GAO, leading to a huge backlog of unfinished infrastructure projects.

An estimated 43% of HSIs’ building space need repairs or replacements and, on average, HSIs have a deferred maintenance backlog equivalent to almost $100 million — and 77% of this backlog is related to a health or safety issue. The report also shows that two-thirds of HSIs experienced a severe weather event in the last five years, resulting in the need for repairs.

Most HSIs reported unmet digital infrastructure needs, too, such as internet access and cybersecurity infrastructure, according to GAO researchers.

Also, they wrote that nearly a third of HSIs reported not being able to access an internet connection. Just under three-fourths of HSIs have experienced a cyberattack in the last five years.

In order to meet their infrastructure goals and needs, colleges and universities need to secure funding. However, they struggle in this area mainly due to insufficient state aid, declining tuition revenue and rising construction costs.

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