Serving Our Hispanic Students

by Keith Hall

Equipped with drive, ambition, yet some doubt, Jennie stepped onto APU’s campus as a first-generation college student committed to pursue her academic goals. Reflecting on her APU experience, Jennie shared, “I’m extremely grateful for my time at APU. My academic journey set me up for success outside of the four walls of a classroom. I learned how to critically think for myself, acquired noncognitive development skills, and gained mentors that will forever pour into me professionally and personally.” Jennie earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in college counseling and student development and now provides focused leadership and support for first-generation and low-income students at APU.

As a commuter student at APU, Ulises is excelling academically, experiencing community, and engaging his faith deeply while working part time and taking care of his younger brothers. Ulises remarked, “My biggest challenge with navigating college has been finding the balance between school, work, and family responsibilities in order to do well in all areas and not feel burnt out.” Leaning into community for support, Ulises has developed a rhythm and is leveraging his agency to manage his personal and academic demands to thrive, and he now mentors underclassmen needing support. He will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in biblical studies.

Jennie and Ulises reflections reveal some of the lived experiences of APU Hispanic students. At Azusa Pacific University, more than 56 percent of the traditional undergraduate and 57 percent of graduate and professional students are students of color. Of that, approximately 33 percent of traditional undergraduate and 32 percent of the graduate and professional student populations identify as Hispanic. Each student has a unique story, journey, and cultural capacity that reflects God’s image, boundless love, and creativity. As the university demography grows increasingly diverse reflecting layers of intersectionality, it presents opportunity to consider strategic pathways that can be leveraged to optimize the learning, engagement, and success for all students.

What is a Hispanic-Serving Institution?

The Higher Education Act defines a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) as an eligible institution of higher education that has an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25 percent Hispanic students. In 2018, the Hispanic Association of Schools and Colleges reported that there were approximately 500 HSIs in the U.S. with the highest concentration in California.

APU applied for HSI status in 2014 and was awarded the designation in 2015. The HSI designation falls under a larger overarching designation known as Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) which include U.S colleges and universities that enroll a high percentage of minority students. MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and HSIs, as well as institutions of higher education with high enrollments of Native Americans, Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islanders, and Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.

What does this mean for APU?

Now APU may compete for grants under Title III & Title V of the Higher Education Act. In collaboration with the Office of Research and Grants, the Diversity and Inclusion division recently submitted a grant proposal to the Department of Education to support the establishment of an HSI administrative infrastructure and comprehensive programming and resources for the growing population of Hispanic students at APU.

In addition, under the leadership of President Ferguson, the APU community is engaging a strategic planning process that addresses a number of themes, including Creating a University Environment Where Students Thrive. This catalytic process will guide the community in amplifying services and resources that meet the unique needs of all students including minoritized populations while eliminating barriers that inhibit successful navigation and holistic student success. These efforts will align with APU’s distinction as a Christ-centered university committed to academic excellence while further establishing the community as a Hispanic Serving Institution.

Keith Hall, Ed.D., is vice president/chief diversity officer at Azusa Pacific University.