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A new research brief by Excelencia in Education, an organization focused on Latino student success, examines how Puerto Rican universities weathered a series of challenges, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria, earthquakes, unexpected changes in governmental leadership, demographic shifts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The brief, released last week, highlights five Puerto Rican Hispanic-serving institutions as case studies: Inter American University of Puerto Rico–Arecibo, Universidad Ana G. Méndez–Gurabo, the University of Puerto Rico–Mayagüez, the University of Puerto Rico–Río Piedras, and the University of Puerto Rico–Utuado. All of these institutions have faced enrollment declines and budget challenges over the last five years.

“While these challenges are not new or unique to Puerto Rico, their intersection during a short period has required commitment and tenacity from these universities and their students,” Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia, said in a press release.

The brief outlines key strategies universities used to sustain themselves and serve students during these difficult times, including offering wraparound services, such as meals and mental health counseling, and connecting students to work and graduate education opportunities to prepare them for graduation. It also notes that Puerto Rican universities made restructuring decisions, such as staffing changes and changes to degree requirements, in response to budgetary constraints and shifted their enrollment plans by expanding their program offerings to more mainland students and using social media and other new tools for recruitment, among other new recruitment efforts.

“This brief is about Puerto Rican HSIs, but also resilience across all HSIs and institutions serving post-traditional students, from which decision makers can learn a great deal,” Santiago said in the release. “Considering the leadership of Puerto Rican HSIs in creating a ‘new normal’ to serve their students equips all institutions with effective strategies—and it is long overdue.”