Concordia University Texas, a small, liberal arts and sciences institution in Austin, is the latest school to be designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education.
The university’s new designation makes it one of only 50 faith-based institutions nationally that holds an HSI designation. The new status as a minority-serving institution also demonstrates Concordia’s campus-wide commitment to strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion and support of cultural competency in faculty, staff and students, according to leaders.
“Above everything else, [the HSI designation] is an affirmation of our work as an institution of access and our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Jennielle Strother, associate vice president and chief enrollment officer at Concordia. “For us at Concordia, it has been an intentional decision and strategic initiative to think about this and how we marry our identity as a private, faith-based Lutheran institution, but also as an HSI.”
A college or university is considered an HSI under Title V of the Higher Education Act, when Latino students account for 25 percent or more of its undergraduate full-time equivalent enrollment.
Last June, Excelencia in Education – an organization committed to accelerating Latino student success in higher education – documented 492 HSIs and 333 emerging HSIs.
Concordia officially became an HSI in May 2018, making it one of only 14 private, four-year institutions in Texas to earn the status. Currently, 33 percent of undergraduates and 30 percent of graduate students at the university identify as Hispanic or Latino.
Concordia’s intentional efforts towards becoming an HSI moved forward a year ago when Strother pulled together a task force to inform the campus about what the designation actually meant, she said. The task force had three goals: 1) create a grassroots awareness internally about what it means for Concordia to be an HSI, 2) receive the HSI designation and 3) celebrate the designation with the campus community.
To build awareness about HSIs, the taskforce conducted departmental “roadshows” for faculty, brought in HSI scholars and continued “bridging the knowledge gap” with additional communication from leaders, Strother said.
Concordia students, faculty, elected officials and other community members celebrated the university’s HSI designation on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Welcome Center. Speakers included Concordia sophomore Alejandro Salazar, alumnus Manuel Alarcon, state senator Jose Menendez, state representative Richard Peña Raymond, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities chief operating officer Dr. David Ortiz, Excelencia in Education’s Eyra A. Pérez and Independent Universities and Colleges of Texas president Ray Martinez.
Salazar, a first-generation honor student and athlete, and Alarcon, chief executive officer and vice president of marketing and sales for KB Homes, both spoke of Concordia’s impact and commitment to their success.
The new designation filled the campus with an “overwhelming sense of gratitude” and a “heightened awareness of our work,” Strother added, noting that an HSI designation due to the 25 percent enrollment threshold does not always mean that institutions are fully committed to intentionally serving their Hispanic students.
“We’re all reading about the demographics, but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “For me, personally, I wanted to make [Concordia] sure of what the ‘more’ meant. The messaging that I’ve been giving is that it’s just the first step towards our journey.”
The HSI task force will continue developing and expanding campus programs and services such as the Developing Scholars Program, the Generation1 Program and the Latino Student Association, and it will offer more education and training for students, faculty and staff to familiarize them with the mission of HSIs. In addition, admissions pages will be available to families in both English and Spanish, and the university will host FAFSA days in Spanish in accordance with its access-mission, Strother said.
During the HSI celebration, Concordia also announced the appointment of Dr. Elizabeth Guillory Medina, associate vice president for student life, as chief diversity officer. In this role, Medina will lead diversity and inclusion initiatives and ensure that Concordia “walks the talk,” she said.
Several core areas that Medina will focus on for establishing inclusive excellence include providing more education and training; increasing services and resources for diversity and inclusion work; conducting more surveys and assessments to gather data; developing more programs, activities and events; and enhancing faculty teaching and learning around cultural competence.
“We really want to be a model institution in particular for faith-based institutions of what it looks like to not just enroll Hispanic students, but serve them, and what that means and how do we serve them from the admissions process all the way through to graduation and into their first jobs,” Strother said. “It’s hard work, but it’s very, very gratifying and it’s absolutely what our mission at Concordia is all about.”
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.