Why HSI status matters—for all of our students, our entire college and for Colorado.

As recently as 2007, less than five percent of FRCC’s students identified as Latinx. Today Latinx students make up 24% of our student body. Last year, that meant more than 6,500 students.

Those steady enrollment increases tell us that FRCC is currently serving a large number of Latinx students. And over the years, we’ve been thinking hard about the best ways to meet their needs—and what we can do to improve their educational experience.

The college is now working to officially become a designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Becoming an HSI is an intentional commitment to being a college where Latinx students thrive. FRCC’s mission is to enrich lives through learning—for all of our students equitably.

“Colorado has one of the highest college degree gaps in the nation between white and Latinx students,” said FRCC President Colleen Simpson, EdD. “Becoming an HSI is one of many steps we are taking to close that gap. We know that a college degree enhances our students’ career prospects and, in the long-term, improves their lives.”

What Is an HSI?

The term Hispanic Serving Institution is a federal designation that applies to colleges and universities whose enrollment is made up of at least 25 percent Latinx students. Once a school crosses that threshold, it can apply for official status as a recognized HSI—which brings with it opportunities for significant grant funding.

Approximately 24% of FRCC’s students currently identify as Latinx—so the college will likely reach that 25 percent level in 2023 or 2024. As an institution, we plan to apply for HSI status as soon as we’re eligible.

Why Do We Have HSIs in the First Place?

We need HSIs in the US for a number of reasons. To be concise, creating HSIs is about achieving more equity in higher education.

The federal Higher Education Act created the HSI designation in 1992 because, after educators shared their research with lawmakers, Congress officially recognized that:

  • Hispanic Americans are at high risk of not enrolling or graduating from institutions of higher education.
  • Disparities are increasing between the enrollment of non-Hispanic white students and Hispanic students in postsecondary education. (Between 1973 and 1994, enrollment of white secondary school graduates in four-year institutions of higher education increased at a rate two times higher than that of Hispanic secondary school graduates.)
  • Despite significant limitations in resources, Hispanic-serving institutions provide a significant proportion of postsecondary opportunities for Hispanic students.
  • Relative to other institutions of higher education, Hispanic-serving institutions are underfunded. Such institutions receive significantly less in state and local funding—per full-time equivalent student—than other institutions of higher education.
  • Hispanic-serving institutions are succeeding in educating Hispanic students despite significant resource problems that limit the ability of such institutions to expand and improve the academic programs of such institutions.
  • There is a national interest in remedying [these] disparities and ensuring that Hispanic students have an equal opportunity to pursue postsecondary opportunities.

There were many years of work leading up to the creation of the HSI designation in the 1990s. In 1986, educators from 18 educational institutions created the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities, an organization that led the effort to convince Congress to formally recognize HSIs. They also worked to convince Congress to approve the funding that supports HSIs.

Disparities Right Here in Colorado

Unfortunately, the national differences in educational outcomes between Latinx students and white students are also evident in Colorado. According to the Bell Policy Center, just 20 percent of adult Latinos (ages 25-64) in Colorado have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree—compared to 55 percent of white adults.

That’s a gap of 35 percentage points in degree attainment—the largest such equity disparity in the country.

So why work to close the gap?  At FRCC our mission is to enrich the lives of all our students. We believe strongly in equitable educational opportunities—and by extension better jobs and a better life—for everyone who walks through our doors.

HSI Funding Can Help All Students Achieve

The main idea behind HSIs is that they can respond to, and better meet, the needs of historically underserved students. Specifically, the intent is to bolster schools with large Latinx populations—giving them the resources they need to do a better of job of helping students reach their educational goals. In addition, being an HSI helps build an environment where people from all circumstances can thrive.

The funding available for these efforts comes in the form of grant programs authorized in the Higher Education Act (HEA). These federal grants are designed to support HSIs in improving and strengthening the education they offer Latinx students.

The funding is used to enhance a college’s programs so they can better retain students, and—this part is key—successfully guide them to graduation. The funds can also enable colleges to:

  • provide students funding to help pay for school;
  • boost campus resources to guide students all the way through to graduation;
  • help set alumni up for employment after college.

The grants can be used to serve all students, as long as the school is working hard to create equitable outcomes. All students will benefit from the funding that comes with being an HSI by having more resources designated for their success inside and outside of the classroom.

These federal dollars can be spent in a number of ways—including providing high-quality systems to deliver instruction, enriching curricula, strengthening infrastructure and offering faculty enhanced professional development.

Serving Latinx Students More Effectively

You might ask, “With so many students who identify as Latinx, isn’t FRCC essentially already a ‘Hispanic serving institution’”? In some ways, yes—but there’s a lot more to being an effective HSI than simply enrolling Latinx students. Just because a school has a large population of students with a particular identity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doing everything it can to provide those students an excellent—and equitable—educational experience.

FRCC is making significant strides in effectively serving Latinx students and all students of color, but there is still about a 6% gap between graduation rates for Latinx and white students at FRCC. We also know that Latinx graduates at local high schools are less likely to ever start college. So, we know we have work to do in ensuring those students know that FRCC can help them achieve their dreams and to ensure our college is one that reflects their identities and values.

“A key reason FRCC created our new HSI taskforce is to ensure that Latinx students have rich educational experiences that enrich not only their careers, but their lives,” said Vice President Tricia Johnson. “That means ensuring that our Latinx graduates succeed at the same rate as our other students, that we provide culturally responsive education and events, and that we respect the diversity within the Latinx community.”

A Solid Foundation

FRCC is already doing a lot of work to support historically marginalized students like our Latinx population. For more than 50 years, faculty and staff here have been focused on serving all of our students well, not only in the classroom, but with a range of support services—from tutoring to counseling to internships and apprenticeships. And we certainly have countless alumni from historically minoritized groups who have gone on to be extremely successful in their academic and professional careers.

Our entire mission at FRCC is to enrich lives through learning. That principle has been vital to who we are since the college’s inception in 1968. It’s also woven into our Philosophy of Inclusion, which states that FRCC is committed to “inclusive excellence, educational equity and advancing opportunity for all.”

In addition to everything we do to help our students succeed in college, FRCC operates strong support programs like TRIO that are great resources for our students of color and other marginalized groups. The college also offers a large number of scholarships, internships, field work experience and leadership opportunities that help students finish school and start their careers.

Another way the college helps students thrive is through our Latinx Excellence Achievement and Development Scholars (LEADS) program. Participants in LEADS are supported in their leadership development—with their culture and experiences as the foundation. They also meet regularly with a mentor who guides them in discovering their voice as the future of their communities. (Students who participate in the program also get a $1,000 scholarship.)

“LEADS is a transformational program where students realize their potential as leaders in their communities,” says Rebecca Chavez, an FRCC director who helped start the program. “This experience provides scholars a safe environment where they can be their authentic selves in a community with students, staff and community members who have shared experiences.”

There are now six LEADS alumni working at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus—and two of them serve as co-chairs in running the program. “This shows how the program helps students become leaders,” says Chavez. “And we are all so proud of the leaders they have become.”

What’s Next?

All of the work outlined above gives us a good starting point for our work to become an HSI—these important efforts are already making a big difference for our students. But we still know we can do more. That’s why FRCC is starting the process to become an HSI and laying the groundwork to make sure we have an intentional focus on helping Latinx students thrive in college. 

A key part of our plan is creating a new HSI task force that will examine all the ways we support, communicate with, and contribute to Latinx students, their families and the community.

In a follow-up blog post, we’ll take a closer look at how FRCC is preparing, and the steps this task force will take. This is a critical and exciting opportunity for us as an institution—and as a part of our community, we hope you’ll stay engaged and involved in the process. More to come soon…

Welcoming. Respectful. Inclusive.

Together, we are FRCC.

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