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UNC Launches Website Celebrating Initiative to Become a Hispanic Serving Institution

Hispanic/Latinx-identifying students at UNC

September 16, 2021

The University of Northern Colorado kicks off its annual celebration of Latinx Heritage Month this week, honoring the history, culture and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. This year’s celebration is coupled with an institutional commitment to better serve the growing population of Hispanic/Latinx-identifying students as the university took an important step in launching a new website, affirming their intention and progress toward becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). 

“While our HSI website is new, our efforts to become an HSI started to materialize over a year ago with the implementation of our 10-year strategic plan, Rowing, Not Drifting 2030,” Tobias Guzmán, Ed.D., interim vice president of Student Affairs and chief diversity officer said. “President Feinstein championed UNC’s pursuit of HSI designation and that is exactly what we needed to move forward. As a university committed to putting students first, we recognized that we have some work to do to ensure we're serving and promoting the success of all of our students.” 

Guzmán said the university’s progress toward becoming an HSI began with a series of conversations and information gathering sessions within the university community in fall 2020. Logistical and tactical efforts that will help pave the way to HSI will continue through 2025 when he expects UNC will receive the federal designation. 

“Between now and then, there’s a lot of work to do to ensure we’re being intentional in the way we serve our students,” Guzmán said.  

The U.S. Department of Education defines an HSI as an institution of higher education with an undergraduate full-time equivalent enrollment of at least 25% Hispanic students. In the fall of 2021, 24.3% of UNC’s undergraduate population identified as Latinx/Hispanic. As the demographics of college-age students continue to change, with greater diversity and representation especially among students identifying as Hispanic, Latino or Latinx, the university expects they will naturally reach that 25% benchmark. But according to Guzmán, there’s far more to becoming a successful HSI than meeting a federal benchmark. 

“As an institution, we are committed to more than just enrolling Hispanic/Latinx-identifying students. We’re committing to identifying strategies that serve them in a manner that nurtures their sense of belonging and fuels their persistence through graduation. Those same strategies will ultimately benefit all of our students,” Guzmán said.  

According to the Colorado Department of Higher Education, even though Hispanic/Latino individuals represent the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group, they have the lowest average educational attainment and the lowest college enrollment rate of any ethnic group in the state. As just under one-third of Colorado’s high school graduates and 60% of the students in the Greeley-Evans School District identify as Hispanic/Latinx, finding ways to better serve this growing demographic has far-reaching benefits.  

“In helping more of our students complete and earn a UNC degree, including an increased percentage of our Hispanic/Latinx-identifying students, we’ll be able to continue our long tradition of preparing and graduating leaders who serve and enrich Colorado’s culture and economy.,” Guzmán said. “And we know that doing so will positively change their lives and the future of our state.” 

UNC is currently in Phase 2 of its five-year plan to become an HSI and Guzmán expects the website will grow and update as planning efforts continue. His hope is that it provides people with a better understanding of the significance and importance of what becoming an HSI means, not only for UNC but also for Weld County and communities across Colorado, as well as giving people the opportunity to become involved in and help support the process. 

—Written by Deanna Herbert

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