Institutional resilience in Puerto Rico

Renata Kaminski (Al Día News) writes about “Excelencia in Education”—the “newest study about the efforts done by Puerto Rican HSIs in the past turbulent years.”

When considering Latinos in the United States, Puerto Ricans represent the second largest group in the community — only behind Mexicans.

Worried about giving visibility to this population that is often forgotten in studies — even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and their institutions are part of the U.S. economy — Excelencia in Education shared a brief , “Institutional Resilience in Puerto Rico: A First Look at Efforts by Puerto Rican HSIs“, about the efforts in the resilience of educational institutions in the island throughout difficult times. 

Over the past five years, Puerto Rico has faced fiscal and economic disruptions, demographic shifts, hurricanes and earthquakes, governance challenges, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although these challenges are not exclusive or new to the island, their intersection in such a short period of time required commitment, flexibility, innovation, and adjustments. 

Excelencia interviewed five Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and identified essential efforts demonstrating their resilience in sustaining institutional management, managing enrollment plans and expectations, supporting students by meeting their basic needs, providing wraparound services, and preparing students for graduation and post-completion. 


Being located in a region with earthquake and hurricane tendencies, Puerto Rican institutions in recent years have faced the negative impacts of these natural disasters on their physical infrastructure, resource availability, and service priorities. The island experienced intense and destructive hurricanes in 2017 and high-magnitude earthquakes since 2019 — which severely impacted the lives of Puerto Rican residents. Adding to the infrastructure challenges caused by natural causes is the fiscal austerity in Puerto Rico due to the financial crisis. According to the brief, by the fiscal year 2021, appropriations for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) — the public university system — were 40% lower than in 2017, a decrease of $333 million. Governance and leadership during these moments of crisis have also created tensions and social protest demonstrations — as they have failed to address the citizens’ needs. Political instability affects higher education as university leadership is often associated with political affiliation and electoral swigs. 

The demographic shift in the island also has an impact on the higher education system. The population in Puerto Rico has not only been declining but getting older. The out-migration of young and working-age occupants to the mainland and the decline in birth rate are the main contributors to this shift that has impacted the pool of college applicants. 

On top of all that, it is impossible not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the entire world since 2020. In the case of Puerto Rico, it adds to all the other difficulties the citizens were already facing. Specifically for higher education, there were limits to infrastructure investment regarding distance learning since the modality more common was in-person. 


Excelencia reviewed institutions in order to get a greater understanding of their efforts in resilience to address the challenging circumstances in Puerto Rico. Five institutions volunteered to participate in several interviews to share information about themselves and their student’s experiences throughout the past five years. The institutions are: 

  • Inter American University of Puerto Rico-Arecibo;
  • Universidad Ana G. Méndez-Gurabo;
  • University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez;
  • University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras;
  • University of Puerto Rico-Utuado; 

According to the brief, in 2020-21, there were 80 institutions in Puerto Rico — with around 183,000 students enrolled. Of these, 70% are in the private sector, and 30% are in the public sector — over half of the institutions in Puerto Rico are private, nonprofit four-year institutions.

The large public system, the UPR system, has 11 campuses and enrolled the majority of students in public institutions — about 50,000. 


Providing a five-year overview of the data on fall enrollment, retention, faculty, degree completion, revenues and expenditures, and cost of attendance and financial aid for each institution; Excelencia identified the approaches taken by the universities to stay open in the long-term.  

Read below the challenges faced and how institutions managed to address the issues: 

  • Decline in enrollment [. . .]
  • Retaining and graduating students: addressing basic needs, providing support services, and improving the quality of education. [. . .]
  • Connecting graduates to Puerto Rico’s workforce [. . .]
  • Fiscal and budgetary constraints: academic and administrative restructuring. [. . .]
  • Decline in college-age student population [. . .]
  • Persisting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic [. . .].

For full article, see

For full brief, see

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