FSU is on track to becoming an Hispanic-Serving Institution

The University has been classified as an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) according to University data that indicates Hispanic students currently make up 16% of the FSU population.

As defined by the U.S. Department of Education, an HSI is “an eligible institution” that “has an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25% Hispanic students at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application.”

Currently, there is no federal definition for “emerging HSI,” but Excelencia in Education, a group that works to “accelerate Latino student success in higher education,” identifies institutions with “an undergraduate full-time equivalent Hispanic enrollment of 15-24 percent” as emerging HSIs. 

Hispanics make up 18.1% of the U.S. population, but as of 2017, only 17.2% of Hispanic adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. 

Millie Gonzalez, former interim vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said last year, she met with several members of the President’s Council to “discuss and share information on how to receive the HSI designation.” 

She said she also partnered with Excelencia in Education “to learn about successful programs to enroll and support Latino students.”

Gonzalez added, “In addition, a group of faculty and staff members participated in a year-long Racial Equity and Justice Institute (REJI) organized by the Leading for Change Consortium. The purpose of the institute was ‘identifying student and employee diversity best practices through uniform and transparent use of data, institutional benchmarks, and reflective practices.’”

She said, “The preliminary research gathered from Excelencia in Education and the REJI group reinforced the need to develop a comprehensive approach that would increase the number of Latino students and also to have them persist and thrive at FSU.”

Constanza Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement at FSU, is currently leading an HSI taskforce, as the University achieved emerging HSI status for the first time last year. 

Cabello said, “We have some time to plan to hit 25%, but if we’re keeping up with demographic trends, we’ll be there before we know it.” 

Between the fall 2009 and the fall 2018 semesters, the population of Hispanic students increased from 4% to 16%.

Of the taskforce, she said, “Our goal is to outline our institutional positioning and opportunities as it relates to Framingham State becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Really, what we’re looking at is preparing our institution not only to enroll, but to also retain and graduate Hispanic students.”

She added, “I don’t want to simply be an Hispanic-enrolling institution. I want to be Hispanic-serving – there is a real difference between that.”

Cabello said the taskforce is a cross-divisional committee made up of administrators from the offices of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement. She said she is hoping to add students to the group as well.

She said the taskforce will be divided into different groups focusing on student life, academic experience, and enrollment, adding, “All those things come into play when you think about our identity as an institution.”

Cabello said once the University reaches HSI status, the institution will be eligible for grant funding, but it is not guaranteed. 

Under Title V of the Higher Education Act, these grants would “assist HSIs to expand educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students. These grants also enable HSIs to expand and enhance their academic offerings, program quality, and institutional stability.”

Cabello said, “For me, we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s about the identity of our institution. Hopefully, if we get coins – that would be great, too.”

She said reaching HSI status will be “a symbol of commitment to serving our community.” 

FSU President F. Javier Cevallos said he has been promoting the idea of an HSI taskforce since he came to FSU during a demographic shift with “a growing number of Latinx students.”

Cevallos said the University’s initiatives to reach HSI status began in 2014 through the MetroWest College Planning Collaborative (CPC), founded by FSU and Mass Bay Community College. 

He said the CPC was not created with the idea the University would become an HSI, but was formed “to reach out to underserved populations in Framingham, Milford, Marlborough, and Waltham.”

He added, “We’re targeting all students who are underrepresented … But considering the demographic shift, a number of those students are going to be Latinx.”

Cevallos said the University is focusing on retention, and in recent years, hired a director of student retention and graduation success, who works with software such as Starfish to help students manage campus more easily, which boosts retention rates.

Juan Fernando Ruelas Garcia, a sophomore, said he views the University’s emerging HSI status as a good thing. He said it “means that we are filling a niche in the local Hispanic community.”

Garcia said “a generous scholarship would be a good idea” as an initiative to enroll, retain, and graduate Hispanic students. 

He said, “For all the kids who are making it in, there are a bunch who can’t afford to come, or have to work many hours to make ends meet. It is always sad when a capable student of any race can’t continue their education due to financial problems.”

He added, “From the time I’ve spent on campus, it looks like there is already a lot of good going on for Hispanics. I’ve noticed a number of classes focused on Latino culture, Latino faculty members, and Latino students holding important positions.”

Johan Perez, a junior, said attending an emerging HSI “makes me feel proud inside for my culture. I never really had a strong Hispanic community around me in my schooling – just outside of it, like family and church.”

He added, “The school is already doing a pretty good job in having events related to Hispanic heritage, so really, I’d just like to see them further that even more.”

Cevallos said, “I agree with [Cabello] 100%. We are not doing this because of the money. We are doing this – because we want to be Hispanic-serving, because we need to serve all of our students.”