GSE launches Center for Minority Serving Institutions

The Graduate School of Education (GSE) kicked off the New Year with the launch of its newest research hub: the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

The brainchild of Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at GSE, the Center has two main goals: highlight, support, and sustain minority-serving institutions (MSIs) throughout the country, and create opportunities for researchers—whether at predominately white or minority institutions—who are interested in scholarship surrounding MSIs.

Gasman, the Center’s founding director, began her career at Penn focusing on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and has since expanded her research interests to include comprehensive MSIs—higher education institutions that include HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-serving institutions.

“These are institutions that educate many of the students a lot of other institutions don’t,” Gasman says. “With more than 700 [MSIs] throughout the country enrolling roughly 25 percent of all students, [the Center] wants to help them solve some of their tough issues and create resources for them to do so.”

MSIs, such as Howard University and Hampton University, first emerged in response to a history of inequity and people of color’s lack of access to predominately white colleges and universities. Gasman says that although MSIs have since carved a niche serving low-income, underrepresented students of color, they face a variety of unique challenges, including fundraising struggles, retaining innovative leadership, and difficulty communicating their messages at the national level.

“One of the biggest issues facing [MSIs] is that the public ones have a hard time satisfying performance-based standards at the state level,” Gasman says. “Most of these institutions have high percentages of Pell Grant students, and we know from research that it’s much harder to graduate low-income students than it is to graduate other students. [MSIs] are enrolling students who often have financial challenges. We want to do work to increase retention and graduation rates.”

To coincide with the Center’s launch, GSE is hosting an evening of celebratory events on Tuesday, Jan. 21. The events are free and open to the public.

First, a town hall meeting, “Envisioning the Future of Minority Serving Institutions: Challenges and Opportunities,” will feature a discussion moderated by Gasman with panelists including Cheryl Crazy Bull, executive director of the American Indian College Fund; Neil Horikoshi, president of the Asian & Pacific Islander American College Fund; Karl Reid, senior vice president for research, innovation, and member college engagement at the United Negro College Fund; and Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education. The conversation will take place at 4 p.m. in the Terrace Room of Claudia Cohen Hall.

“We’re going to be asking some really challenging questions and think about these institutions and the role they will serve in the future,” Gasman says.

Following the discussion, a reception will take place at the Center’s physical space, 3819-33 Chestnut St., Suite 140, offering people a chance to visit the location and learn more about MSIs.

To RSVP for the events, email For more information about the Center for MSIs, visit

Marybeth Gasman