Hispanic Serving Institutions meet needs of all students

(09-02-2011)

Opinion by Dr. David Svaldi, president of Adams State College

Several years ago I received a phone call from a Hispanic gentleman living on the Front Range. He was concerned about the term "Hispanic Serving Institution" that appeared in a news release about Adams State's award of a Title V Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. As he put it, Adams State should serve all students, not just Hispanic students. Of course he was correct, but his concern demonstrates the on-going confusion that sometimes surrounds the term "Hispanic Serving."

The term, coined fairly recently in 1992, is a federal definition for post-secondary institutions in which 25 percent of undergraduate students identify their ethnicity as Hispanic. Adams State was the first college in the state to earn Federal HSI designation. Founded to serve the San Luis Valley and southern Colorado, Adams State has always enrolled a high percentage of Hispanic students. Those numbers have grown in recent years - Hispanic student enrollment at Adams State this semester is up slightly, to 33 percent, with an additional 14 percent of students identifying as members of other ethnic/racial minority groups.

The Title V grants Adams State has received over the years - more than $8.6 million - have been successful because we have identified areas and services to strengthen so all Adams State students can be better served. No federal (or state) funds can ever be used to give one group of students an advantage over another-rather, the thinking is that a rising tide raises all boats. Title V grants have allowed us to raise awareness of diversity issues and needs on campus. We've made significant improvements in resources, facilities, and teaching. The results benefit all students.

Challenges cross ethnic lines

The obstacles faced by Hispanic students are common among the entire Adams State student body: low income, gaps in high school preparation, and geographic isolation. Thirty-seven percent of Adams State undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college; among Hispanic students, that rate is 47 percent. More than half of Adams State students are considered low income, with family adjusted gross income averaging $17,818. Therefore, all Adams State students are benefiting from measures designed to mitigate these challenges.

The irony is that students who need the most help often attend institutions with the least resources. Adams State's students are generally low income, and we have historically kept our tuition and fees low to allow for their access. In the past, we may have received a somewhat higher state reimbursement per student than urban institutions, but this is increasingly not the case because of state budget reductions. Moreover, Hispanic Serving Institutions receive only 60c on the federal dollar, compared to large research institutions. This includes Pell Grant awards that accompany low-income students.

The rapid growth of our country's Hispanic population means their academic success is crucial to meeting President Obama's objective of increasing American graduation rates over all to the highest in the world by 2020. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37 percent of the 44 million Hispanic U.S. residents are under the age of 20, and by 2020, Hispanics will make up 22 percent of the nation's college-age population. It's predicted America's Hispanic population will double by 2050. Latino youth are the fastest growing demographic group in Colorado, yet it is estimated that only 44 of every 100 Hispanic children in Colorado will complete high school; 24 will enter college, but only 6 will graduate college; and only 2 will pursue post-graduate education.

Adams State is becoming a leader in HSI advocacy, regionally and nationally. We are part of the Southern Colorado Education Consortium, which includes ten higher education institutions working to expand higher education success for Hispanic students. In 2009, only nine percent of southern Colorado high school graduates went on to pursue a higher education. The consortium's goal is to increase that number by two percent by 2014. The group is working on ways to improve access and college completion for first generation, under-represented, and low income students. This effort will include ways to eliminate barriers perceived by many students and parents. The Consortium's work is funded through a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

To be a Hispanic Serving Institution is to provide a pathway for our Hispanic students and all of our students. When an institution can give all of its students an equal hope and chance that they can succeed, then it is truly serving its students.

Read more about Adams State's work as a Hispanic Serving Institution.