By Matt Watson
It’s official: The university that serves more Latino students (5,469) than any other higher education institution in Colorado has earned the federal designation of Hispanic-Serving Institution, a status that unlocks access to millions of dollars in grant opportunities and corroborates Metropolitan State University of Denver’s decade-long effort to better reflect and serve Colorado.
MSU Denver was granted HSI status on Feb. 19 with a letter from the U.S. Department of Education confirming that the University met the criteria for proportion of Latino students and institutional spending on students. The letter also confirmed that the University would receive a waiver for the third criterion based on student income level. MSU Denver can now apply for multimillion-dollar grants designed to promote access and increase graduation rates.
“Becoming an HSI-designated University positions MSU Denver to provide the highest possible quality of education to Hispanic-identifying students and all students,” said President Janine Davidson, Ph.D. “I commend every single faculty and staff member who has contributed to this process – especially my predecessor, President Stephen Jordan, and I look forward to the new opportunities this designation will create for all Roadrunners.”
Because the grant opportunities include projects such as student support services, faculty development, transfer pipeline development and distance learning instruction, the funding secured will better serve all Roadrunners, regardless of ethnicity or background.
President Emeritus Jordan launched MSU Denver’s HSI obtainment efforts in 2007 by forming a task force to boost the recruitment and retention of Latino students. In 2008, Colorado’s population was 20 percent Latino, while the University’s student body was only 13 percent Latino.
In 10 years, the population of Latino students at MSU Denver nearly doubled from 2,877 in 2008. The University crossed the 25 percent threshold required for HSI status in 2017 and has been awaiting for the federal processing of enrollment data and approval of the student income level exemption with its application.
“Achieving HSI designation feels amazing, especially considering all the people and work that has been done to get us here,” said Angela Marquez, Ph.D., special assistant to the president for HSI. “To my knowledge, most institutions achieve status essentially by default, but our journey was very intentional and strategic.”
That strategy relied heavily on the efforts of Jordan; Esther Rodriguez, former special assistant to the president for HSI; Luis Torres, Ph.D., former deputy provost; Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, former associate vice president for Enrollment Services; Marquez; the HSI Implementation Team; and the HSI Task Force. Members of the campus community spent years researching population and higher-education enrollment trends in Colorado – as well as identifying efforts that more effectively address the access, recruitment, transfer, retention and completion needs of the growing Latino population and all MSU Denver students.
“It’s been a long time getting to this step, but that has also allowed us to be creative and intentional in thinking about how we can best support our students,” Marquez said. “In submitting grant proposals, we’ll be looking at writing grants that reflect best practices and at what is most beneficial for our students.”
Federal requests for grant proposals for Title V funding generally launch by the end of February and must be completed by May. Institutions that compete in this process are usually alerted by September that their funding requests have been granted.
There are two types of Title V grants, cooperative or individual, designed to promote access and increase graduation rates. The $3.5 million cooperative grants are generally universities partnering with a community college to improve transfer-related practices. The $2.5 million individual institution grants vary more widely, with several investment projects detailed in the MSU Denver HSI Task Force’s 2016 report, Connecting the Dots. Universities can apply for and receive both grants at once.
Magaly Sanchez De La Cruz, a senior who will begin the Master of Social Work program at MSU Denver this summer, said she’s more than happy to learn of the University’s new HSI achievement.
“Being a first-generation Hispanic student, I am proud to be graduating and continuing my graduate education at a university that is dedicated to helping Hispanic students like me,” she said. “I am excited to hear and see the success of Latinx students in a diverse campus like Metropolitan State University of Denver.”
“As a first-generation, Mexican student, it makes me proud to see all the great support provided to this University. This is an incredible milestone that will ease financial barriers for students and give them extra hope to attend college,” Campos said.
MSU Denver’s HSI efforts go hand-in-hand with the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Master Plan, which calls for erasing equity gaps among ethnic groups. The Master Plan’s second strategic goal addresses the fact that Colorado’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic group, Hispanic/Latino, has the lowest average educational attainment and the lowest college enrollment rate of any ethnic group in the state.
As of 2017, just 29 percent of Hispanic adults in Colorado possessed a college degree, compared to 64 percent for white adults. The Master Plan’s statewide goal is 66 percent attainment for Colorado adults.
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