Emerging HSIs Step Up to Serve Hispanic, Latinx Students

Published By
Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Published On
July 9, 2019

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.

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.

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.”