Watchdog: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Have ‘Extensive’ Infrastructure Needs

More than 40% of buildings at Hispanic-serving institutions in the U.S. have "extensive" repair and maintenance needs.
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Matthew Arrojas
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on March 15, 2024
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Alex Pasquariello is a senior news editor for BestColleges. Prior to joining BestColleges he led Metropolitan State University of Denver's digital journalism initiative. He holds a BS in journalism from Northwestern University....
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  • More than 40% of building space at Hispanic-serving institutions needs repair or replacement.
  • Many HSIs struggle to address a deferred maintenance backlog while also investing in new facilities.
  • Slow internet speeds and cyberattacks are also major concerns for HSIs, a government watchdog found.
  • In some cases, HSIs demolish buildings or build new facilities due to the high costs of renovation and repairs.

Many Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) are struggling to maintain their campuses, a government watchdog recently found.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Tuesday that found "extensive facility needs" at HSIs — colleges with undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25% Hispanic — across the U.S.

Common challenges faced by HSIs included the need to repair or replace buildings, deferred maintenance backlogs totaling more than $15 million, and technological shortcomings.

GAO's report highlighted the prevalence of infrastructure woes at HSIs.

"HSIs play a prominent role in the nation's higher education system," the report stated. "Like most colleges, HSIs must continue to invest in their facilities and digital infrastructure to serve their students safely and effectively."

Deferred Maintenance Weighs Down HSIs

The report found, however, that many HSIs are having difficulty getting out from under a backlog of maintenance issues they haven't been able to address. This can leave university leaders deciding between building new facilities and addressing existing issues.

HSIs, on average, have $95.2 million in deferred maintenance, the report found, and institutions were only able to spend an average of $4.6 million to address this backlog last year.

Of the 110 HSIs that GAO surveyed, half had a deferred maintenance backlog of at least $15 million. The university with the highest backlog totaled more than $1 billion, the report showed.

HSIs in Need of Repair

Beyond maintenance, many HSIs require more substantial repairs. GAO found that 43% of building space — defined by square footage — needs repair or replacement. Approximately 14% of HSIs have at least three-fourths of their building space in need of repairs or replacement.

GAO found that repairs would be so extensive at some HSIs that it's cheaper to tear down some buildings.

One institution told GAO that it will soon demolish a residence hall because it would be too costly to renovate and repair the building.

Another, according to the report, has opted to build a new $100 million facility to replace other buildings that are over 100 years old. Some of the buildings being replaced, according to GAO, haven't been updated in at least 50 years.

Technology Upgrades Needed

It's not just physical infrastructure that needs updating at many HSIs.

Nearly one-fourth (24%) of HSIs surveyed reported that they do not have internet speeds that meet the needs of students and faculty. Of the HSIs that said this, 76% said that their slow internet speeds limited students' ability to complete coursework or restricted the offerings that professors and instructors could provide.

Meanwhile, the threat of cyberattacks looms largely over HSIs.

Three out of 4 HSIs have experienced a cyberattack in the past five years, GAO reported. Approximately 19% of all HSIs experienced a ransomware attack within that period.

Ransomware attacks targeting colleges and universities could negatively impact students. In the worst cases, private and extremely sensitive data could be leaked onto the dark web.