The University of Colorado Denver has earned the federal Hispanic-Serving Institution designation along with CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus, making it the third and final school on the downtown Auraria campus to be recognized for its commitment to serving Latino students.
A Hispanic-Serving Institution is a college or university with a high concentration of students with financial need and a student population comprised of at least 25% Latinos. The federal designation enables the institutions to apply for multimillion-dollar grants that can benefit the entire campus.
“That’s the bureaucratic formula,” said Antonio Farias, CU Denver vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. “I’m more interested in the human formula that’s not about the numbers. How are students finding that CU Denver is a place where they belong? That word ‘belonging’ is really powerful for me. It means more than just comfort. It means connection, co-creation and it means control. That you are an active, young agent of your own destiny and education.”
CU’s Denver and Anschutz campuses are the first research universities in the state to obtain the status. Ten other higher education institutions across Colorado are already HSI-designated, including Metropolitan State University and the Community College of Denver on the Auraria campus. Adams State University and Colorado State University Pueblo have also earned HSI status.
The increase in Latino college students makes sense when considering Colorado’s demographics, according to a CU Denver news release. By 2050, the Latino population in Colorado is expected to reach more than one-third of the total population and workforce
“The institution is embracing the changing landscape by implementing new policies and faculty appointments focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion that create a culture of belonging,” the news release read.
CU Denver student body president Chris Hilton is the embodiment of a Hispanic student who was drawn in by the university’s commitment to access and equity.
The 31-year-old non-traditional student started at CU Denver about a decade ago before life got in the way and he left the university after a semester. Right as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hilton was intrigued by a CU Denver lecture series on public health that he watched, learning from CU Denver professors about the language and history around pandemics. The series was so interesting to Hilton that he re-enrolled and is now studying public health.
“This designation is the official title on what we’ve always felt,” Hilton said. “We are a diverse campus and to have something that says on paper, 25% of your student body is Hispanic and it matches what we feel, it matches the community we come from, I think it’s really exciting. Plus, who can say ‘no’ to getting more grants.”
Farias said the HSI designation will open up the door for grant money from the federal government and organizations like the National Science Foundation. Farias said the university intends to look at grants that will help remove barriers for students and provide them more opportunities and resources to succeed.
“Part of what becoming a real Hispanic-Serving Institution is is changing the optics of which we look at our students,” Farias said. “Students are coming to us exactly as they should be. They are not coming with a deficit. Some of this is reframing how we look at students and thinking there is nothing wrong with them. The old model says students are broken because they’re poor, Hispanic or a first-generation college student, and that’s an antiquated model that puts a stigma on them and says they’re not worthy …This gives us time to rethink how we deliver education and services and remove barriers.”
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