UC Santa Cruz Hispanic-Serving Institution’s innovative approach, supporting education access and addressing equity

June 05, 2020

By Matthew Alvarez 

hsi-banner.jpgUC Santa Cruz is home to a diverse student body with scholars hailing from different communities throughout California, the U.S., and abroad. Each student brings their own story, history, and has a unique background. Among the many communities represented at UC Santa Cruz, one major group is the Latinx community. Since 2012, UC Santa Cruz has enrolled more than 25% Latinx students annually¹.

With that 25% enrollment, in winter 2015, the university became eligible to earn Hispanic-Serving Institution designation (note, we use "Latinx" but "Hispanic" is the federal designation). Immediately following this designation, a dedicated group of staff and faculty applied and then received two major grants from the U.S. Department of Education, later receiving one more, bringing a total of $5.7 million for programming to the campus. 

But, what does it mean for a university to be a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI)

cultivamoswelcome.jpgThe White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics was established by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community. Fundamental to the creation was the realization that the “future of our nation is inextricably linked to the future of the Hispanic community.” Founding documents note that Hispanics are the largest and fastest‐growing minority group, and will represent 60 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2005 and 2050. However, also pointed out was the fact that, “Hispanics have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the United States.”

Each designated campus (as of 2019 there were 539 recognized nationwide²) through public‐private partnerships and in concert with the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, seeks to tackle three critical education challenges:

  • Improving availability of and access to high quality early learning programs for Hispanic children;
  • Dramatically increasing the number of Hispanic high school graduates;
  • Ensuring more Hispanic students enroll in and, more importantly, complete college.

Designated campuses can apply for TItle III and Title V grants, which are intended to allow 2-year colleges and 4-year universities to expand academic support for their Latinx populations. 

cultivamoswelcome25.jpgAt UC Santa Cruz, with each grant received, the campus has been able to launch several innovative initiatives to support Latinx student success. In fact, undergirding the comprehensive program is a fundamental commitment to transforming the graduation rates for Latinx students. The whole purpose, notes Charis Herzon, Director of the HSI initiatives is to “serve students.” The staff have ambitious goals. As outlined in a recent case study³, with these programs “UC Santa Cruz will graduate high achieving Latinx and all students and conduct ongoing inquiry to support equity goals and contribute to the academic pipeline across the disciplines - 80% graduation rate at or above 3.0.”

The UC Santa Cruz HSI initiatives include: Cultivamos Excelencia, a program in which UC Santa Cruz works with San Jose City College to strengthen transfer receptive culture by providing advising, tutoring to support students as they earn bachelor's degrees. SEMILLA, an effort focused on keeping Latinx and low-income students on the path toward graduating with STEM degrees. With the STEM HUB in the Science & Engineering Library as well as the services provided, the SEMILLA program has so far served over 4,500 students⁴. 

Writing Originating from Reading and Dialogue, or WORD, is another HSI program at UC Santa Cruz. This program is a five-week program that takes place in the summer before a student’s freshman year. The goal is to allow students to feel they are ready for the courses ahead of them as they develop reading and writing skills, and to give these students a sense of belonging at UC Santa Cruz.

students-working-on-computer.jpgMark Baker, lecturer in the writing program, as well as one of the original members of the HSI committee on our campus, comments that the goal of the WORD program is to give incoming students a sense of belonging and capability in a university environment.

“They come in and feel like they can be superstars in their courses, especially those [classes] that are reading and writing heavy,” notes Baker. 

Since UC Santa Cruz’s initial designation as an HSI, the program has matured. Herzon notes that the university is seen as a leader among Hispanic-Serving Institutions. “There’s not many HSIs that are also research-one institutions,” Herzon notes. In fact, the university has begun referring to itself as a Hispanic-Serving Research Institution, and just recently held a showcase highlighting the campus’ approach as an HSRI. 

Herzon reflects, “We were selected to be the UC’s first showcase because of all the fantastic work that we’re doing here.”

between-classes.jpgThey are excited also for the future. With the current pandemic, they will be redirecting efforts with all summer and fall quarter offerings done remotely as the campus anticipates most classes will be taught online.

More Info on HSIs

A recent book publication, “Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: opportunities for colleges and universities,” by Gina Ann Garcia, goes into depth on what it means to be an HSI as well as what problems are addressed by HSIs.

UC Santa Cruz’s associate vice chancellor for Student Achievement & Equity Innovation, Pablo Reguerin serves as lead author for the chapter “Becoming a Racially Just HSI.” The book is available through the UC Santa Cruz library to students and faculty.




³Becoming a Racially Just Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI): A Case Study of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Pablo Guillermo Reguerín, Juan Poblete, Catherine R. Cooper, Arnold Sánchez Ordaz, and René Moreno.