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Emerging HSIs Step Up to Serve Hispanic, Latinx Students

Dr. Deborah A. SantiagoDr. Deborah A. Santiago

With an Hispanic student population of 21 percent, Front Range Community College (FRCC) is what the Hispanic student success organization Excelencia in Education calls an “emerging HSI.”

The “emerging” Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) label makes FRCC one of 328 institutions that are on track to become HSIs, which are colleges or universities that meet a 25 percent threshold of Hispanic student enrollment. As HSIs, institutions become eligible for federal grants that can be used to increase or enhance programs that promote Hispanic student retention and completion.

But beyond tracking enrollment, FRCC leaders are intentionally working to make the institution an inclusive environment for Hispanic student success.

“We started working internally on what we call our philosophy of inclusion – a series of conversations about what it means to be an inclusive institution,” says FRCC President Andrew Dorsey. “From that, we’ve developed an equity, inclusion and diversity council. We’ve also set some target goals to close the achievement gap between all students of color and our White students over the next six years.”

Dr. Deborah A. Santiago, co-founder and chief executive officer of Excelencia in Education, says that, in addition to creating a positive campus climate, intentionally serving Latinx or Hispanic students means enrolling them, retaining them, supporting them financially, graduating them and having staff and faculty that is representative of Hispanic groups on campus.

“Demography,” she warns, “does not equal success independently.”

FRCC’s student population is 62 percent White, 21 percent Hispanic, 5 percent unknown, 4 percent Asian, 2 percent Black and 1 percent American Indian. Dorsey notes that the north Denver area that FRCC serves around its Westminster campus is one that has become more popular to people of color over the last 25 years.

With intentionality in mind, dual enrollment programs at high schools with large Latinx populations and community-based outreach have resulted in more families of color sending their students to Front Range, Dorsey says.

To aid with recruitment and community outreach of Hispanic students particularly, FRCC ensures that bilingual outreach specialists are available on all campuses. In addition, marketing materials and “critical portions of our website” are available in Spanish, Dorsey adds.

Much of Front Range leaders’ diversity and inclusion work has been driven by a strategic plan developed years ago that publicly asserted the college’s commitment to diversity and established working diversity and equity councils on every Front Range campus.

“We’ve really improved the campus conversations around diversity and equity through those councils, and we’ve improved the number of events we have on campus, too, that recognize the many different communities we serve,” Dorsey says.

The college’s Latinx students can participate in programming such as the Latino Excellence, Achievement and Development Series (LEADS), or they can access academic success centers, counseling services, career counseling and other TRIO student support services.

Faculty members are also building their capacity to support subgroups of students by looking to the disaggregated data on student outcomes. What initially began as an effort among math faculty at the Westminster campus – the campus with the most students of color — has expanded to become workshops with faculty in other disciplines to improve student outcomes by race and ethnicity.

“For all of our students, math is the biggest stumbling block. We’ve been working with the Center for Urban Education, who’s been doing projects with several schools in Colorado, to improve math outcomes for students of color,” Dorsey says. “I think there’s some real promise there because if you can improve math outcomes, that’s one of the key impediments to a degree.”

FRCC leaders then asked the math faculty leading the data work if they would be interested in providing support to other faculty members.

Andrew DorseyAndrew Dorsey

They “dove in,” Dorsey says, highlighting a recent math faculty-led workshop that brought together 30 part-time faculty from automotive technology, English, the sciences and more to not only look at their own student data broken down by race but to begin working up plans to address the data.

“When those voluntary efforts take hold is when you have the most potential for real meaningful change,” Dorsey says. “The most important thing is to find the advisers and faculty who are already passionate about improving outcomes for students of color and we’re very fortunate that we have a lot of both advisers and faculty who are passionate.”

“It’s not something I’ve needed to inspire. In many respects, some of our frontline staff have been the best leaders in the college in helping establish the philosophy of inclusion and really driving the conversations about inclusivity,” he continues. “That’s really been incredible to have that level of dedication.”

Because Front Range is still on a “journey,” Dorsey adds that it has been invaluable to have other colleges to look to as the institution continues the work to build its culture of inclusiveness.

“There are a couple of community colleges in Colorado that have really been leaders and been mentors to us,” he says of the college’s status as an emerging HSI. “We call the Community College of Aurora all the time to figure out what they’re doing because they’re three or four years ahead of us on this journey.”

An overview of HSIs

Research from organizations like the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and Excelencia in Education indicates that the number of HSIs in the U.S. will continue to grow as Hispanic and Latino students increasingly graduate from high schools across the country.

Now situated in 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the number of HSIs has increased by 98 percent over the last 10 years, according to research from Excelencia in Education. The institutions enroll two-thirds of all Latino undergraduates in higher education.

Emerging HSIs specifically are those with an undergraduate fulltime equivalent Hispanic enrollment between 15 and 24.94 percent. Excelencia in Education tracked 328 emerging HSIs during the 2017-18 academic year.

One of the emerging HSIs the organization has tracked is the College of Alameda, which is part of the Peralta Community College District in California. Hispanic students made up 24.8 percent of the college’s undergraduate population last year.

Shining a light on individual cultures

“For us, the Hispanic or Latinx community has been growing naturally, but that’s not enough for us to [serve students] unintentionally,” says Dr. Timothy Karas, president of the College of Alameda. “‘Intentionality’ is the key word.”

To start, having and hiring more faculty, staff and administrators that are reflective of the community population is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion work, Karas says. As for students, 30 percent of College of Alameda students are Asian, nearly 25 percent are Latinx, 19 percent are African-American and 15 percent are White.

Leaders started a working group on campus this academic year that sparked conversations about what it means to be an HSI and what direction the college would like to move towards going forward.

“It’s a multi-discipline group of faculty, staff and administrators who have been here all year trying to unpack what this would mean for the college” in terms of student supports, course offerings and more, Karas says.

The group meets every other week, and currently, it is working with nonprofit partners and community-based organizations to see how the institution can collaborate on providing services like financial aid workshops to various communities. There are also early ideas for the creation of a physical space on campus for a Latinx center that would build on the supports of the institution’s Umoja Community.

The proposed center’s programming would add to the “robust” cultural programming already offered at the college that aims to help students “see themselves on campus.” If there is no representation, “that is an unintended barrier” for students, Karas says.

Karas points out that people may think of Hispanics as one cultural body, but it is important to recognize subgroups on campus such as Chicanos, Guatemalans or even those whose roots go back to the founding of California, he says.

“It’s not a lot, but there are some more recent immigrants who are coming from Central America,” he adds. “So we realized our programs need to shine a light on each of those individual cultures because doing it monolithically doesn’t speak to these communities.”

For this reason, College of Alameda has celebrations recognizing the independence days of some Latin American countries, Cinco de Mayo celebrations and more. Latinx students can also see themselves in the curriculum.

“We’ve always had courses on the books like the ‘History of Mexico’ or ‘History of Latin America’ or ‘Latin American Folklore’ and those types of programs,” Karas says. “For a long time, they were on our books and we taught them, but enrollment wasn’t quite as robust as we’d like. But now, by reaching out, people are finding out about these courses, about their histories, and are starting to take the courses.”

“It’s becoming more embedded, which is fantastic,” Karas says, noting that the college has a “very strong ethos about community building and social justice.”

Like FRCC, College of Alameda officials and faculty are using data to augment their understanding around what academic or cultural supports they need to implement for student groups.

“When we get information on a Latinx [or] Hispanic community, [leaders ask] ‘What’s packed in there?’ or ‘Are they predominantly Guatemalan?’ because that will change how we want to respond to our community and even in programming, classes and things like that,” Karas says.

“So we’ve been trying to really disaggregate our data to be much more intentional about all of our programming to our groups.”

And externally, leaders are continuously working on building pathways to college and the workforce for Latinx communities in the neighboring Oakland area in the form of dual enrollment, transfer and vocational programs.

The efforts not only create a college-going culture among Latinx communities in the region, but they encourage learners and adult workers to consider the skilled, high-paying jobs available to them in the Oakland area, Karas says.

The Port of Oakland, for instance, “has a lot of skilled jobs that are very, very high-paying and in the trades,” Karas says. “We’re trying to get pathways, even with our Latinx community, realizing that if you don’t want to go to a university, that’s fine, but there are very well-paying jobs that have benefits, you can have a living wage, you can stay in your communities and work.”

“The nice part is the numbers are going up. We are having a response in our community [where they are] seeing us as a school to go,” Karas says.

The “intentional and thoughtful and deliberative” effort to holistically support students is “really something we take on as a whole college to transform people’s lives and let them succeed however they need to,” he says.

Building a strategic initiative

At the University of California at San Diego, leaders have recently launched a Latinx/Chicanx Academic Excellence Initiative in response to the university’s — and the region’s — growing Hispanic student population, which currently sits at a little more than 18 percent.

Led by the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the campus-wide initiative connects and enhances services across the university dedicated to attracting and retaining a diverse campus community. Leaders say it will additionally support university partnerships with local communities to improve access and inclusive excellence for Latinx/Chicanx students.

“Imagine a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multilingual community, all together at UC San Diego learning from each other, challenging each other about what the world’s going to look like,” said UC San Diego chancellor Dr. Pradeep K. Khosla. “The Latinx/Chicanx Academic Excellence Initiative brings us closer to defining this vision for our university.”

Central to the goal of the new initiative is the understanding that “student success isn’t just about academic success,” officials say. As a result, leaders have set out to create affirming and welcoming spaces for students to receive support, celebrate their culture and find community on campus. These spaces include the interactive Raza Resource Centro, an open-dialogue community center created in 2014, and the Raza Living-Learning Community — one of five living-learning communities designed to improve residents’ learning by connecting them academically and socially.

Academically, programs available to support Latinx/Chicanx students include the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship to increase access; the PATHways to STEM Program to increase minority representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics throughout San Diego; the Chicana/o Latina/o Arts and Humanities Program that explores Chicana/o Latina/o life, history and culture; the Hispanic Center of Excellence Faculty Development Program at the School of Medicine; and the ENLACE bi-national summer research program, an initiative that brings together high school students, college students, researchers and teachers in the sciences and engineering, all while cultivating cross-border friendships in the Baja California-San Diego region.

UC San Diego’s campus- and discipline-wide approach to supporting and affirming the needs and identity of Latinx/ Chicanx students places the institution on a trajectory to become an intentional Hispanic Serving Institution in the next few years, based on the practices Hispanic student success organizations recommend.

“Being designated an HSI sends a message to our prospective Latinx/Chicanx students, families and community members that UC San Diego welcomes you,” says Dr. Becky Petitt, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. “We are intentionally preparing our campus to be Hispanic-serving so that when students arrive, they feel a sense of belonging and they know that we are here to guide them in drawing upon their strengths to define and achieve their success.”

Replicating efforts for inclusive excellence

While fully-designated HSIs should be playing a leadership role in modeling how to effectively serve Hispanic students, Santiago, Excelencia in Education’s CEO, says that emerging HSIs have the most potential to transform, particularly as they build capacity to equitably support students.

Santiago sees a common thread among intentional HSIs: they ensure that Latinos not only have support programs, but that they are participating in them; they value and include Latinx students’ family networks in events like orientation; and Latinx students see themselves represented within campus spaces, in the curriculum and in the faculty body, she says.

Retention efforts like cohort models are among best practices as well, she says, noting that “they work disproportionally for Latino and black students because there’s a trust level there working with others like you,” Santiago says.

Some of the advice UC San Diego leaders have for other emerging HSIs and institutions looking to intentionally serve all demographics of students is to use data to identify trends and improve student outcomes, communicate “often and frequently,” include students in all phases of the work of institutional transformation, celebrate even the small milestones of progress and “transform your institution, not the students,” says Frank A. Silva, chief of staff in the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UC San Diego.

“Your students are brilliant. They come with rich, deep history, experience and strengths,” he says. “They don’t need to change, the institution does. If you change biased, unsupportive structures and cultures, the students will come and thrive.”

In addition, institutional leaders should seek out and create advocates and influencers who can advance diversity, equity and inclusion goals, he says.

“Work on developing why you want to be an HSI and then get support and buy-in from your executive leadership and academic senate to advance your work more readily,” Silva says. “For UC San Diego, our ‘why’ was about becoming the national exemplar of an inclusive, student-centered, research focused, public university: a place where generations rise through increased access and educational equity.”

This article appears in the July 11 issue of Diverse magazine.

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