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HSI Federal Grant

March 27, 2023 - 5 minute read

Last October, Concordia University Irvine received the largest federal grant in its history: $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education for its Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Program. The money will be disbursed in equal portions over five years and be used to enhance support services for undergraduate Hispanic students and all Concordia students.

“It will be transformative for our campus,” says vice president Peter Senkbeil. “It will help us serve our Hispanic students – and all our students – more effectively. This grant enables us to provide support to help students thrive in college and beyond.” 

Senkbeil says that Concordia’s Hispanic undergraduate student population has grown to more than 25 percent in the last 15 years.

“In California, a larger and larger percentage of college students are Hispanic,” he says. “In two of the three largest cities in Orange County — Santa Ana and Anaheim — 74 percent of residents speak Spanish. We are called to serve an increasingly diverse community and we want to do a better job of it.”

Data shows that Hispanic students, many of whom are first-generation college students, aren’t retained as well as other students. Likewise, their graduation rates are historically lower, leading Concordia’s leaders to ask how the institution could help those students have a more successful experience. Last year, the university hired a grant-writing consultant to help create a proposal for the Developing HSI grants (DHSI). 

“The grants are seed money to help institutions like ours build capacity to serve Hispanic students better,” Senkbeil says. 

The proposal laid out a plan for better advising services, academic support, financial aid counseling services, and more to serve this particular population and, by extension, all students on campus. The university also committed to a system of evaluation, goals, and benchmarks. In September, it became one of 78 HSI grant recipients in the U.S. in 2022.

Concordia’s HSI grant-funded activities aim to:

  • Increase enrollment and early success of Hispanic students and other targeted populations, such as first generation and low-income students, by developing a community outreach program and creating a sense of “belonging” on campus.
  • Increase retention and graduation rates for Hispanic students and other targeted populations through expanded student services.
  • Hire four new employees: an HSI success coordinator/project director, a transfer coordinator/success coach, a tutoring coordinator/ success coach, and a career services coordinator.

“This is an opportunity to increase Hispanic enrollment and further support the success of current students through the expansion of already existing programs," said Blanca Quiroz, associate professor in the doctoral program in the School of Education.

A third of the money will be used to complete the student success center in the library, where a large indoor/outdoor meeting space will be built on the lower level.

The university will study retention and graduation rates over five years to see if the approach is working.

Elsa Mendoza, a first-generation college student of Mexican background from San Juan Capistrano, came to college without much knowledge of what it would be like.

“My parents always wanted us to pursue a higher education so we aren’t like them, working from paycheck to paycheck and tired every single day,” says Mendoza. “They were for us getting college degrees. ‘Don’t worry about the money. We’ll worry about that. Pursue your dreams and we’ll support you all the way,’ they said.”

Mendoza chose to major in mathematics and become a math teacher, like her mother was in Mexico. At Concordia, she especially enjoys the small class sizes.

“I can be one-on-one with my professor and get toknow everyone who’s studying the same thing as me and create all those bonds,” she says. “The fact that I could do my credential and my undergraduate degree at the same time was amazing.”

She joined Nuestra Voz, the Hispanic student club, and has appreciated getting “to collaborate with people who have the same experiences and who come with the same challenges and similar lifestyles.”

Mendoza intends to pursue a master’s degree after getting her credential. 

Relatedly, Concordia hosted its sixth Hispanic Leadership Conference for community college and high school students in October, to encourage Hispanic students in community colleges and high schools to look into higher education as a possible life pathway. Keynote speaker and Concordia alumnus Henry Alonzo, MBA ’09, challenged attendees to dream big. As founder of Adarga Entertainment Group, Alonzo promotes and produces the work of Latin Grammy Award-winning musicians.

Multiple Orange County public schools sent buses of students and family members to Concordia for this inspiring day. The conference included sessions by other Hispanic leaders in business, education, and government, many of them first-generation college graduates, and concluded with a college information fair and U.S. military recruiters.

“We are pleased with the result,” says Senkbeil. “The presenters were well-received, and attendees really appreciated the event. We are intending to further expand and enhance this event next year, to help Hispanic high school students and their families see that college is attainable and affordable. We hope those who attend learn about us, like what they see and think about college in general.” 

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