Hauser: Hard work level the playing field
Sometimes you have to aim for a goal that is seemingly out of reach and put your energy into accomplishing it.
Several years ago, the Colorado Mountain College team set a goal of becoming Colorado’s next Hispanic Service Institution, the federal designation given to colleges and universities that successfully support a student population of 25% or more. latino. From CMC’s story, this was a seemingly overconfident goal. But, by putting the right strategies in place, we knew it could be achieved.
There are just over 500 Hispanic institutions serving the United States (about 10% of the nation’s roughly 5,000 colleges and universities). These colleges are found in 21 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and are most often concentrated in states with large Latin American populations, such as California and Texas, and in metropolitan areas. In Colorado, only about a third of the state’s public colleges have achieved HSI status. CMC will be the first HSI located in rural high-cost mountain resort Colorado.
When I arrived at the CMC in 2013, the college was embarking on its newly authorized bachelor’s degree offerings. Then, the Latino population of the CMC represented about 13% of the overall registrations, which was not representative of the general population. Disturbingly, at this time, Latino students at CMC were underachieving in retention and completion compared to their majority counterparts. In fact, the success of Latino students was in double digits.
We quickly adopted performance goals for each of our eleven campuses and for the college as a whole. Within each category – enrollment, retention, credit accumulation, and course completion – we focused on the disparities between Latino and non-Latino students.
In 2020, the improvements at CMC were dramatic and positive. On almost every measure, Latino student performance not only improved, but stubborn gaps in retention and completion were eventually closed. In fact, Latino students had the highest completion results among any groups in 2019-2020. It should be noted that these improvements did not come at the expense of anyone else. Over the past five years, the equity disparities have dissolved and all of the CMC students have done better. A real win-win.
While we cannot single out any strategy as a “panacea”, several initiatives have been important.
First, the college has “doubled” its commitment to offer concurrent enrollment courses in high schools in the region. We knew that the populations of many local school districts were 50% or more Latin American.
So instead of waiting for these students to come to CMC after high school, we made college more accessible to them at a younger age. Today, more than 2,000 local high school students enroll in the CMC each year. In addition to their high school diploma, many also earn post-secondary certificates or associate’s degrees, with no tuition fees for themselves or their families.
Second, we applied millions of state and philanthropic grant funds and new financial aid programs where they were needed most. The college has also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to local school districts to cover college tuition and books for high school students and, through our President’s Bursary, has guaranteed funding for every graduate in the CMC region.
Finally, we have intentionally added new career-oriented certificate and diploma programs, focusing our energy on programs leading to stable employment in our area, such as nursing, teacher training, application of the law and business. And, our move towards a ‘dual mission’ institution – one that offers bachelor’s degrees in addition to locally relevant certificates and associated degrees – has given students transparent pathways to pursue their studies close to home while contributing. to the local economy.
These efforts were not designed to increase enrollment, income, or “grow” the college per se. Instead, we focused on improving results and becoming a highly efficient institution where students complete the program of their choice without incurring heavy debt.
And it worked. Today, the number of students enrolled is slightly lower than it was in 2013, but we have doubled the number of diplomas and certificates awarded each year. More of our students – now almost 28% Latino – are enrolling full-time and completing what they started.
CMC’s new HSI status marks the end of the beginning, not the end in itself. Considerable effort remains to be made, including finding federal grants for which we are now eligible – resources that will improve the CMC experience for everyone.
And, without a doubt, this new designation is a testament to the fact that great things happen when thousands of talented individuals apply their energy towards a common goal: leveling the playing field so that everyone who attends CMC is welcomed, supported and successful.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is President and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at [email protected] or @ CMCPresident.