New Report Explores the Crucial Contributions of Two-Year Minority Serving Institutions to Postsecondary Education and the American Workforce

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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As the nation’s attention turns toward the importance of community colleges, a comprehensive new report from the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, a research center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), highlights the unique and important role played by two-year institutions devoted to serving students of color.

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions will host a live Twitter Chat to discuss two-year MSIs. When: Thurs., March 5, 2015, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (EST), Participants can add #MSIchat anywhere in their tweets to be included in the conversation. Follow @CenterforMSIs

PHILADELPHIA, February 26, 2015 –With President Barack Obama’s recent proposal to make community college education free, the nation’s attention has pivoted to the important role two-year institutions play not only in postsecondary education, but also in the American economy, most especially in its workforce preparation.

A new report “On Their Own Terms: Two-Year Minority Serving Institutions,” recently published by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI), a research center in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, prepares the groundwork for researchers considering the contributions of two-year colleges and universities devoted to students of color. Why is this important?

  • Of the nation’s 1,132 community colleges, 22 percent are designated as Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
  • These 22 percent singlehandedly enroll 55% of college-going minorities.

MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Tribal Colleges and Universities; Hispanic Serving Institutions; and Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.

“Given the nation’s changing demographics and it goals for increasing access to higher education, the influence and importance of MSIs and community colleges are likely to expand in the coming years,” noted Thai-Huy Nguyen, a doctoral student in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, and the lead author of the new report.

Indeed, two-year MSIs play an important role in sub-baccalaureate credential receipt, most especially for racial/ethnic minority students. In fact, in the United States, two-year MSI enrollment includes 30 percent Hispanics/Latinos, 26 percent Pacific Islanders,
22 percent Asian Americans, 12 percent American Indians, and 10 percent Blacks/African Americans.

Two-year MSIs are giving students of color the ability to improve their opportunities in the workforce through relevant coursework, certificates and associate degrees, and to prepare them for four-year universities if they so choose. And yet research shows that community college MSIs are less resourced than both their four-year MSI and non-MSI community college counterparts.

Nearly 44 percent of all science and engineering bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients in the United States, regardless of race, attended a community college at some point. The corresponding rates for minority groups are as follows: 51 percent of Latina/os, 44 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives, 44 percent of Blacks, and 40 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. These data suggest that MSIs are indeed playing a critical role in promoting minority transitions from two- to four-year institutions, especially in STEM fields.

Marybeth Gasman, one of the report’s authors, a professor of higher education at Penn and director of the CMSI, stated: “Community colleges that also are MSIs are essential components of the important task of serving students who often face myriad academic, financial, political and personal challenges. If we, as a nation, truly want to lift up all deserving students so they can contribute to a burgeoning economy, we need to pay more attention to under-resourced two-year colleges and universities such as MSIs.”

Valerie Lundy-Wagner, senior research associate at the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, and one of the authors of the report, noted: “Two-year MSIs are poised to support greater social mobility and economic stability for racial and ethnic minority and low-income students—but only if we invest in them in meaningful and effective ways.”

In addition to defining two-year MSIs, the report, which is available free from the CMSI website provides a crucial snapshot of who attends these institutions, where they are located and how they contribute to educational attainment and the workforce. Additionally, the report encourages researchers and policy-makers to answer important questions that might move our understanding of two-year MSIs beyond mere descriptions and anecdotes.

In addition to the CMSI, the report was sponsored by the CCRC’s Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE), which conducts research and provides national leadership for advancing knowledge about the relationship between postsecondary education and the labor market.


About The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions brings together researchers and practitioners from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. The Center’s goals include: elevating the educational contributions of MSIs; ensuring that they are a part of national conversations; bringing awareness to the vital role MSIs play in the nation’s economic development; increasing the rigorous scholarship of MSIs; connecting MSIs’ academic and administrative leadership to promote reform initiatives; and strengthening efforts to close educational achievement gaps among disadvantaged communities. For further information about the Center, please visit


About the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at the University of Pennsylvania 

Penn GSE is one of the nation’s premier research education schools. No other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge building as the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania. The School is notably entrepreneurial, launching innovative degree programs for practicing professionals, unique partnerships with local educators, and the first-ever business plan competition devoted exclusively to educational products and programs. For further information about Penn GSE, please visit


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Note for press: The authors are available for interview. Please contact the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at 215-898-8956 or Kat Stein/Penn GSE at 215.898.9642.