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How to Achieve HSI Status: Intentionality

For a college or university to be designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), at least 25% of full-time equivalent students enrolled must be Hispanic. These two-year and four-year institutions must also enroll a significant number of students who require needs-based financial aid. Institutions that receive HSI designation are then eligible to apply for various federal grants in support of their programming.

After years of developing student supports, three of the four institutions featured in this article recently received HSI designation and the fourth is moving toward designation. 

Achieving HSI status

Larry EbyLarry EbyLarry Eby, executive director of advancement at Goldey-Beacom College (GBC) in Delaware, said several years ago the college’s admissions office saw there was a rising number of Hispanic students pursuing higher education. GBC has an endowed scholarship fund from the Goizueta Foundation, and utilizing this fund, GBC began pursuing Hispanic students in the region. 

Over the course of the past decade, the percentage of Hispanic students at GBC has doubled thanks to attendance at more than 30 college fairs a year targeted to Hispanic students, as well as connecting with guidance counselors at high schools with large numbers of Hispanic students. Additionally, Dr. Colleen Perry Keith, GBC’s president, approved funding to expand recruitment to students in Puerto Rico. The college has emerging HSI status and is on track to attain full HSI status in the near future.

“This is an important segment of the college-bound market and [GBC] continues to make inroads in successful recruitment of Hispanic students, especially with the expansion of the Goizueta Scholarship to now cover full tuition and in some cases room and board,” Eby said. 

Dr. Justin Jernigan, dean of student success at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), said the plan to pursue HSI status, announced in 2022, was intentional. One of only two schools in the University System of Georgia with HSI status, GGC has consistently developed programming for Hispanic students over the past decade. 

“Gwinnett County is an exceptionally diverse county in Metropolitan Atlanta, and GGC reflects that,” Jernigan said. “For GGC, most of the intention has been oriented around providing services and programming. It’s programming that benefits all students, but in particular focuses on the success of our Hispanic and Latino students.”

Northern Arizona University (NAU) received HSI status in 2020, which Dr. José Luis Cruz Rivera, NAU’s president, said was very much intentional. “NAU applied for classification and then appointed key leadership to ensure we serve our Hispanic students well,” Cruz Rivera said. “It’s not just about meeting the number threshold, but rather about really carrying out our mission and supporting the success of our students.” 

Programming and strategies

Since the HSI classification was approved, NAU integrated the work into the university’s strategic plan, “NAU 2025 – Elevating Excellence.” This includes working on retention strategies that emphasize information on financial aid and mental health services as well as continuing to build a sense of belonging. Hiring practices have been implemented to help attract and retain Hispanic faculty. Current faculty is receiving training and development opportunities so they understand how to fully support Hispanic students. 

In Georgia, Jernigan said in GGC’s department of student success there is a focus on providing students a sense of belonging. “For Hispanic and Latino students in particular, we’ve made a lot of effort to foster a sense of community and support,” he said. “Whether it’s linguistic or language-related support, whether it’s targeted or specific outreach for families of our Hispanic or Latino students, that’s been a big factor.”

These efforts include OLAS, the Organization for Latin American Students, a longtime fixture at the college; and Hispanic Achievers Committed to Excellence and Results, HACER, a living and learning community with recently added provisions for students who wish to reside in student housing.

Another support group, the Hispanic Organization for Growth, Advancement and Retention, has focused on family engagement.

“Goldey-Beacom College has long been a majority-minority serving institution in Delaware, and thus everything the college does is in service to students of traditionally underrepresented backgrounds,” Eby points out. “For Hispanic students, the college provides culturally responsive programs and services that focus on their needs and experiences.”

GBC hosts Hispanic Heritage Month events, encourages participation in the Organization for Latin Americans, provides bilingual resources and creates leadership opportunities. The college also cultivates partnerships with Hispanic serving community organizations. 

Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Texas received HSI designation in 2022. Jeanine Bias, chief diversity officer, said the university offers majors and degree programs that are attractive to Hispanic and Latino students, such as criminal justice and business. Looking at the Rio Grande Valley, there are many individuals who want to work in law enforcement and border patrol. 

“We’re also more than 50% first-gen students and have a large population of students who are low-income, Pell eligible; we’re 18% African American; we recently did a survey where around a quarter of our students identify as LGBTQIA,” Bias explains. “With all of that, regardless of any designation, we have to understand who our students are in order for them to succeed.”

Bias also said SHSU does not treat its Hispanic student population as a monolith, rather looking at different identities within their Hispanic identity. Sometimes, that involves looking at what students need on an individual basis. SHSU has done focus groups asking students the supports they desire.

“For students that happen to be first-generation as well as Hispanic, they need assistance and coaching on the admissions process,” Bias said. “Not because they don’t understand it, but because they are really family-oriented and their families are part of their decision-making process. Several years ago, we started having bilingual tours and bilingual marketing materials so the families can be a part of that process.

“Obviously, the number one thing is student success,” she continued. “Once they’re here, looking at things about adjusting and transitioning into the college environment and the college process.”

Sam Houston’s academic success center offers one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. Most recently, the university has developed its first-generation center. Bias also mentioned the ELITE/evolve (Establishing Leadership In and Through Education) program, encouraging academic and civic engagement, which earned a national grant. She notes it helps build community. 

“Based on our research, retention and persistence rates and ultimately completion for certain populations are centered around community and support systems,” Bias noted. “They really want to feel engagement, so that’s what our programs and resources center around.”

Looking forward

Jeanine BiasJeanine BiasBias said HSI designation propels SHSU into the future. The grant funding is a great opportunity, but the mission and the culture haven’t changed. Going forward, the university will continue to look at data on Hispanic students in terms of graduation and post-graduation employment. They will also survey the campus experience. 

“This designation…starts to develop a narrative that Sam Houston is a place where people feel like they belong and they’re welcome,” she said. “We are a space for various experiences and perspectives.”

Currently 27% of the student population at GGC is Hispanic. Jernigan said word of mouth about inclusivity has led to consistently increasing Hispanic enrollment. To sustain momentum, administration listens carefully to the needs and concerns of students. 

“We know that tutoring support is something that students really appreciate,” said Jernigan. “We have made an effort to bring on board a bilingual tutor in our academic enhancement center. … Also, we have tutors who will go and visit many of our first-year classes and in particular do outreach to our Hispanic and Latino students in the first year, so that they’re comfortable coming in for tutoring.”

GGC also has two bilingual student success advisors who lead workshops on positive academic mindset and arrange discussions with the financial aid office. The college also has two bilingual peer mentors.

“HSI status is going to enable us to do a lot of what we strategically have designed … and scale those efforts on a larger scale than we would have been able to do without the designation and the support that can go along with that through Title V and DOE grant opportunities,” Jernigan said. “Also, there are private donors who look at HSI designation as a place they want to invest in the future of these students.”   

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