The University of Dallas prepares for potential application for Hispanic-Serving Institution status

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Although the decision for the University of Dallas to apply for Hispanic-Serving Institution status has not been made yet, several offices and departments are collaborating to prepare the university in the event President Jonathan Sanford gives the initiative the green light. 

“The administration is looking into the possibility of applying for HSI. We are at a stage where we’re investigating what it would mean to apply and how to go about applying,” said Dr. John Norris, associate provost, who humorously added, “We are getting all our ducks in a row. We’re working on all our ducks.” 

An HSI is an accredited, not-for-profit institution of higher education that meets certain requirements regarding its full-time undergraduate Hispanic and low-income student population. The university has hired a firm called Marygrove Consulting, which Norris works with, to prepare for the application. 

“We’re looking at what data is needed to establish eligibility,” said Norris, “so that we would be ready to apply when the Department of Education opens up the consideration status.” It is unknown when the DoE will open up the application process, so the goal is to be ready by early December.

There are three requirements the university must meet to qualify for HSI status. First, 25% of the full-time undergraduate population must be Hispanic. In the 2021-22 academic year, 26.5% of this population was Hispanic. In the current academic year, this figure is 27%. 

Although this increase benefits UD’s application, Norris emphasized: “We do not have goals for the number of Hispanic students, meaning we don’t have quotas to fill. We’re increasing our Hispanic audience because the students who are well-served by UD are becoming more and more higher percentage Hispanic.” 

Second, the university must have a population of needy, meaning eligible for the Pell grant, students. The required percentage is 39%, but UD is only at 24%. Third, core expenses for undergraduates must be under $42,211. UD’s core expenses are only $24,400.

Although UD is not eligible based on the second requirement, there are six ways to get a waiver for this. The two that the university will be seeking are based on having plans for enrollment and retention of Hispanic and other minority students and substantially increasing opportunities for minority students. Applying for these waivers is the main focus at this point. 

“We have all the information already. We just need to see if there are particular things that the waiver requires that we haven’t yet given them and then Marygrove will work on putting it into the right format for a waiver application,” said Norris, who is confident UD will qualify for the waiver. “They did this for four schools similar to us who needed waivers and they were 100% successful 100% of the time.”

UD’s participation in the Cristo Rey Network, a nationwide organization of Catholic high schools that serve predominantly low-income, educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods and families helps it qualify for the first type of waiver the university is pursuing. Many Cristo Rey schools have large Hispanic student bodies. UD offers scholarships to Cristo Rey graduates and recruits heavily at these schools.

Dr. Matthew Spring, director of the Academic Success Office, praised the work done by his colleagues within ASO and how it benefits not only Hispanic, minority and needy students, but also UD at large. This work primarily helps UD qualify for the second type of waiver the university is pursuing.

He said: “Consider as examples my two colleagues in Academic Success — Ms. Ana Henriquez and Mr. Bryan De La Cruz. Their positions are funded by foundations to do particular work for a particular community at UD and in DFW, but in practice, they do much more and serve a much larger community here at UD.”

Henriquez gave some insight into the unique role some of these programs play, such as targeted advising.

“We ask that all the students who are incoming freshmen or transfers fill out a CSI survey and that tells us what their incoming struggles or concerns are as they enter UD. This is anything from financial stress, educational stress, experiences with former teachers, that kind of thing,” Henriquez said. Using this information ASO reaches out to them before they even get to campus and tries to connect them to any resources that might address their particular struggles to help them succeed from the beginning. The CSI survey began two years ago.

ASO also has a body of student tutors to assist those struggling with classes. “Most of the tutoring is for freshman-level classes or Core classes, but they certainly are qualified to tutor for any course that they’ve taken up to that point,” Henriquez said. 

Although not under ASO, the Groundhog Library is also important for serving in-need students. Originally a student-led group that provided Core texts to students for free on a first-come-first-serve basis, this program is currently overseen by the library.

Henriquez also mentioned other programs that specifically help foster community. “There’s a lack of sense of belonging often for students who are from different backgrounds here at UD because it’s a predominantly white campus. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, it’s just that we haven’t created a home for people who fall outside of that demographic and that’s what we’re trying to do with this program.”

The Constantin Scholars program helps UD qualify for both waivers. “These are incoming freshmen, first-gen, low-income scholars, often local to the DFW area, that we asked to come onto campus for a five-week summer program during which we offer the course the Seven Arts of Language,” Henriquez explained. “This is a foundation for students coming to UD, teaching them how to read, how to approach these difficult texts, and help them appreciate the richness of these texts, as well as helping them become very familiar with the environment on campus.”

Alyson Stephens, a freshman history major and student-worker at the Registrar’s Office, benefitted from participating in the Constantin Scholars program. “I got $5,000 in scholarships because I did this over the summer and so that really alleviated a lot of financial stress that I had. I was going to take out a whole bunch of other loans if I hadn’t done this.”

Stephens commented on the difficulty of forming community and the unique struggles she faced as a low-income student. “A lot of the students here are legacy students, so that’s definitely a barrier. There’s definitely a disconnect. A lot of these kids are wealthier and they have the means to pay for this, while some first-gen people, we don’t,” Stephens said. 

Because she is a first-gen student, Stephens lacked any parental guidance when applying to college. “You’re pretty much having to scramble around and either do it on your own or ask.” However, she pointed out that the resources immediately available are not always the best. “My high school counselor told us a lot of things that ended up not being true, so I was pretty much winging it on my own.”

When asked about these unique struggles, Joseph Nelson, a freshman chemistry major, student-worker at the Registrar’s Office and Constantin Scholar said, “Definitely imposter syndrome! Especially when some people are like ‘Oh, I went to private school and I already read the Iliad’ and I’m over here like ‘You didn’t have to call me out like that. I didn’t read that.’ Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m not supposed to be here, but I know I earned the grades to get into here.”

The Constantin Scholars program helped form a community among these first-gen students. 

“It helped us make connections and gave us all jobs that we all desperately needed,” Stephens said, “Like Joey, he works here and we met over the summer and now we’re basically siblings. It’s like we’ve known each other all our lives. I know two of the girls even became roommates. So it definitely helped us build these kinds of relationships that are going to help us through our years.”

Dr. Jose Espericueta, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the modern languages department, spoke generally of the challenges faced by first-gen Hispanic students, which mirror those of Stephens and Nelson. 

“Many of our first-generation students are Hispanic,” said Espericueta, “And some of the challenges they face are simply not having the familial support that other students would have in the college application process or even knowing how to adapt to college and [the] college lifestyle.” 

However, he noted that this is not a universal experience among Hispanic students: “The first thing to recognize is the diversity among Hispanic populations. First-generation Hispanic students are going to face challenges that Hispanic students whose families have been here two or three generations may not have faced.”

Nevertheless, Espericueta is proud of the efforts UD has made to support its Hispanic population and appreciate Hispanic culture. “I don’t know that HSI designation would change that much of what we do on a daily level,” Espericueta said. “I’m really proud of the curriculum we have in Spanish and the courses offered in Latin American Studies. I think they’re popular and students really appreciate them.” 

Espericueta sees the Hispanic tradition as an integral part of the Western tradition that ought to be celebrated and studied at UD. 

“I think that there’s a lack of understanding of the role that Hispanic cultures play in the Western tradition. They are a crucial and consequential part of not only the Western tradition but the Catholic tradition,” said Espericueta. “You cannot take a Latino person’s cultural history outside of the history of the Catholic Church or the Western tradition. […] There’s a valuable and deep liberal arts history in higher education in Latin America that I think the United States tends to neglect overall. I think it’s important also that Latino kids see themselves within a broader history, understanding that Plato and Aristotle are their tradition too.”

Espericueta notes that there are significant financial benefits to HSI status. “We benefit from HSI status by having very basic access to grant opportunities and funding opportunities,” Espericueta said. Norris pointed out that there are significant Department of Education and NSF grants that are available to HSIs and are meant to help smaller schools.

“It will really help us as a smaller liberal arts university with a strong STEM program to be able to assist our students better and improve the quality of the university,” Norris said.  “We’re looking at applying for a National Science Foundation grant based on being an HSI, so that if UD does apply for HSI status, does get it, and grants do open up, we will have a finished grant application ready to go by February 1st,” he said.

However, there are some concerns about the oversight that comes with federal grants. “You do have to report and I think that could be a concern. For example, when you get a grant for a large amount of money from a foundation, they want to know how you spend your money,” Espericueta said. “I think it could be onerous. I always think that bureaucratic reporting is onerous.”

Although these grants would benefit the university, Norris emphasized the core reason UD is considering applying. “The purpose of seeking Hispanic-Serving Institution status is not really grants. The goal of it is to focus on how we can serve our Hispanic student population,” said  Norris, “but in doing so also serve our underrepresented population, all students of color, financially challenged students, but with programs that will actually assist all students.”

Spring is proud of the efforts that his office and the university as a whole have made to assist its Hispanic population. “In my view, the University of Dallas is already a Hispanic Serving Institution and I’m grateful to the administration for exploring the possibility of having UD recognized as such,” Spring said.

Norris pointed out the timing of this movement is particularly meaningful in light of recent events. “The University has just been dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patron saint of the Americas, but in particular, the patron saint of the Hispanics and the poor.”

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