Colorado State University Pueblo

Hispanic Community November 2021 PREMIUM
Elevating HSI Status, Embracing Community, and Leveraging Opportunity

Written by Dr. Derek Lopez

Hispanic Serving Institutions are defined by the Department of Education as having a significant portion (25% or more) of the student body who identifies as Hispanic. Data presented by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) indicate that there are 569 Hispanic Serving Institutions nationwide. There are an additional 362 Emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions as defined by having a 15- 24% Hispanic student body. These institutions serve the majority of Hispanic students in the United States, and as the Hispanic population grows, the need to develop model HSI programs is even more evident.

CSU Pueblo’s distinctive plan of action and current initiatives

Colorado State University Pueblo has been a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2004 and has developed efficacious programs that serve Hispanic students well. In 2008, HACU named CSU Pueblo the HSI of the year. CSU Pueblo was also recognized in 2016 in Latino Leaders Magazine as among the top 50 schools for Latino students. While honored by these distinctions, the institution has not rested on its laurels. CSU Pueblo continues to make strides toward serving Hispanic students and has engaged in a variety of coordinated efforts to foster educational access and support successful degree completion.

CSU Pueblo’s Strategic Plan, Vision 2028, led by Dr. Donna Souder Hodge, Vice President of Operations and Advancement, is the university’s overarching campus-wide effort to    support student success and is regarded as a national model for regional comprehensive institutions. In 2021, the plan was featured in Education First, in an article titled "Strengthening Regional Universities to Foster Equity and Inclusion.” The plan seeks to establish the institution as the “people’s university” of the Southwest. Three goals of the strategic plan that will help actualize this vision include Engaging Place, Developing People, and Empowering Students. To that end, CSU Pueblo President, Dr. Timothy Mottet, made the strategic decision to elevate HSI programs. A new position was created, the Executive Director of Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives, and Dr. Derek Lopez was appointed to develop new programs, securing grant funds, and coordinating these efforts on campus and in the community.

CSU Pueblo has elevated its HSI status with the development of the Ballet Folklórico program that works with local high schools, and regionally and internationally to deliver programs that celebrate Hispanic cultural heritage. This year, CSU Pueblo celebrated the 50th anniversary of Chicano Studies on campus. CSU Pueblo conducted a series of events that educated students and community members about the historical context and significance of the program and celebrated community members who engaged in the important work of creating the Chicano Studies program. These activities elevate the HSI status and embrace the heritage of the community that CSU Pueblo serves.

HSIs tend to be among the lower funded institutions nationwide and have a high percentage of students who are also low-income and first-generation students. CSU Pueblo is no different, and has chosen to actively pursue grant funding available to HSIs as one of the ways that it can leverage its HSI status. The institution has secured millions of dollars in Department of Education funding and is currently implementing four Title V- Developing Hispanic Institution grants and a Title III Part F STEM grant. These grants help increase access to higher education for Hispanic and low-income students and support academic achievement, retention, graduation, and career placement.

While CSU Pueblo strives to serve its Hispanic students well, the faculty and staff know that there are students who do not graduate. In an effort to further understand this phenomenon, Dr. Lopez conducted a longitudinal study that examined the “grit” – generally defined as strength of character, or having the will to persevere - of first-year Hispanic students and its impact on retention rates. Results indicated that there is no relationship between a student’s score on the grit scale and their likelihood of remaining in college beyond the first year. It has been the experience at CSU Pueblo that when Hispanic students leave higher education, it is generally due to external factors rather than to a lack of internal motivation or willpower (grit) to complete their education.

Low-income Hispanic students often have family and financial responsibilities, and their socioeconomic reality impacts their decision to continue the pursuit of higher education. In an effort to address this need, CSU Pueblo has secured external funding that supports these deserving students through two grants sponsored by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). These grants, awarded by the Colorado Opportunity Fund Scholarship Initiative (COSI), provide wrap-around services to low-income students whose financial status puts them at-risk for leaving the academy, as well as students who have already left and who have difficulty returning due to financial reasons. These grants provide the personnel and the scholarship funds to support students, thus impacting retention and graduation rates as well as long-term economic growth.

CSU Pueblo’s strategic, long-term efforts to serve the Hispanic community have  resulted in CSU Pueblo earning the highest social mobility rating among four-year colleges and universities in Colorado, with social mobility  defined by Harvard University Economist Dr. Raj Chetty as the percentage of students from low-income households who earn in the top 20% by mid-career.

Serving CSU Pueblo’s students requires enhanced support to overcome the challenges they face and achieve their educational and economic aspirations.

CSU Pueblo’s efforts to elevate its HSI status, embrace the diverse community    in which the campus is located, and leverage external funding opportunities has positively impacted the socioeconomic reality of the surrounding community. Hispanic students in the region served at CSU Pueblo can see their culture represented on campus. They see themselves represented among the student body and know that when they enroll in CSU Pueblo, they belong. Although CSU Pueblo has been creative and strategic in its use of resources and has implemented programs informed by data and by a deeper understanding of the Hispanic community, the university knows that this work is never done. CSU Pueblo continues to develop its staff and engage the community for the benefit of students, and is working diligently to actualize its vision of becoming the premier HSI of the Southwest United States.

Author bio: Dr. Lopez is currently the Executive Director for Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives at Colorado State University Pueblo. He obtained a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Stanford University in 2002 and has published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences and the Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, among others. Dr. Lopez has authored over $20 million dollars in grant funding and has developed numerous programs that have improved educational outcomes for students, faculty, and staff. Dr. Lopez considers Hispanic Serving Institutions to be among the most powerful change agents and has dedicated his career to serving at HSIs.


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