Episode 124: An Exemplary Hispanic Serving Institution for New College Students

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For the past two weeks in our Colleges in the Spotlight series, we have looked at colleges outside the U.S. and at the pluses (and almost no minuses) of attending college full time outside the U.S. In Episode 122, we spotlighted Richmond, the American International University in London, a unique and appealing university dually accredited in the U.S. and the U.K. In Episode 123, we stayed just a little closer to home and looked at an array of outstanding universities in Canada?specifically, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the French-speaking University of Montreal, the University of Alberta, and McMaster University.

Well, for those of you who can’t get even that far outside your geographic comfort zone, let us bring you back to the U.S. In this episode, we are going to focus on the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine), located in coastal southern California in Orange County, south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer spot. However, let us be the first to say that, for many of you, UC Irvine might be a lot farther away from home than many a university in Canada is. So, maybe it’s time to re-think your own definition of geographic comfort zone!

This episode also goes beyond UC Irvine to talk about Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) generally–a subject that we have addressed here at USACollegeChat several times in the past two years. We are thinking that, for some of you, HSIs might turn out to be a more significant subject than you originally might have thought.

And, let us remind you once again, as summer vacation arrives, that you should go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. We promise that it will help your teenager ask and answer important questions about colleges of interest to him or her. We are offering, of course, a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager!

1. The Facts About UC Irvine

Let us start by telling you a bit about UC Irvine (UCI), one of the University of California public campuses in the most prestigious of the three California state systems of higher education. Here are some of the awards and rankings of note, taken from UCI’s website: 

  • UCI is ranked ninth among the nation’s best public universities and 39th among all national public and private universities, according to the annual S. News & World Report ranking of undergraduate programs.
  • The New York Times ranked UCI first among U.S. universities in doing the most for low-income students in 2017 and 2015 (according to its College Access Index). The ranking is based on a variety of factors, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants (which typically go to families earning less than $70,000 a year); the graduation rate of those students; and the net cost, after financial aid, that a college charges low- and middle-income students.
  • UCI is one of just 62 U.S. and Canadian universities elected to the respected Association of American Universities.
  • Sierra, the magazine of the well-known environmentally active Sierra Club, recognized UCI for its innovative sustainable practices by ranking it third on its “Coolest Schools” list–that is, the list of “colleges working hardest to protect the planet.”
  • And perhaps most important: Money magazine named UCI as the 1 university for beach lovers. Here is what Money magazine wrote:

Irvine sometimes gets a bad rap for lacking a “college town” feel. But if you’d rather spend your time on the sand than on Main Street, it’s a tough spot to beat. There’s surfing at Huntington Beach, the boardwalk and pier at Newport Beach, peace and quiet at Corona del Mar, and the glamor of Laguna Beach. All of those locales, with iconic California beach vistas, are within 20 minutes of campus, and upperclassmen often live off campus, just a couple-minute walk to the sand. (quoted from the website)

Here are some fast facts about UCI, which was founded in 1965:

  • It enrolls about 33,500 students, about 27,500 of which are undergraduates.
  • It received almost 78,000 applicants for its 2016 freshman class; about 6,500 enrolled.
  • Its retention rate from freshman to sophomore year is 93 percent.
  • Its four-year graduation rate is 70 percent; its six-year graduation rate is 88 percent.
  • California residents pay just about $15,000 a year in tuition and fees, while out-of-staters pay about $42,000 a year. So, it’s not cheap for nonresidents, but it’s not as expensive as many good private universities.
  • It offers 87 undergraduate degree programs, 59 master’s degree programs, and 47 doctoral programs, plus a medical degree and a law degree.
  • It boasts 28 national titles in nine sports.

And let me say this: If your teenager takes the virtual tour online at UCI’s website, he or she will want to go there. You might want to go there as well.

2. UC Irvine Designated an HSI

But none of the facts and figures we have just presented is the reason we are looking at UCI in today’s episode. Rather, it is because of an excellent article written last week by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “UC Irvine’s rare distinction: It’s an elite university that’s a haven for Latinos.”

Ms. Watanabe sets the scene this way, amid a variety of personal student anecdotes that are well worth reading:

UC Irvine may seem an unlikely haven for Latino students. The campus is located in what used to be a largely white Republican community . . . . But the Irvine campus is now the most popular UC choice for Latino [freshman] applicants, topping longtime leader UCLA for the first time last fall. And last month the campus won federal recognition for serving Latinos–a still-rare distinction among elite research universities.

In all, 492 campuses in 19 states and Puerto Rico have been designated Hispanic Serving Institutions, which allows them to apply for about $100 million annually in federal research grants. To qualify, the campus student population must be 25% Latino, with more than half financially needy.

In California, nearly all Cal State campuses, at least half of California Community Colleges, and half of UC campuses have received the recognition. But UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara are the only HSI campuses among the 62 members of the Assn. of American Universities–an elite network of public and private research universities that includes the Ivy League [and others] . . . . (quoted from the article)

In our new book for high school students, How To Explore Your College Options, we talk about HSIs (as we did in our first book and in several USACollegeChat episodes). We wrote this in the chapter on researching a college’s history and mission:

HSIs have been designated as such in just the past 50 years. By definition, HSIs have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with a student body that was approximately 45 percent Hispanic and 35 percent Anglo.

[HSIs] are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.

Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) have–perhaps because they were not originally founded with a mission to serve Hispanic students–they do offer a supportive environment, especially for first-generation-to-college Hispanic students. (quoted from the book)

It is this last point about the supportive environment that makes UCI so appealing, according to what we can learn from Ms. Watanabe’s article.

3. UC Irvine’s Supportive Environment

Here is what UCI’s leadership had to say, as quoted from the article:

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the campus has pushed to diversify its campus as part of its public mission and urged other top institutions to do the same.

“We think it’s important to show that great higher education can be there for all of the people,” he said. “The demographics of the state are changing, and great institutions that were there for generations past should also be there for generations of the future.”

For the first time ever, more than half of UC Irvine’s graduating class this year are first-generation college students.

UC Irvine, Gillman said, is not only admitting more Latino students but also helping them succeed. Eight of 10 freshmen who entered in 2010-11 graduated within six years, about equal to whites and blacks and just below Asians. Graduation rates for transfer students are even higher. (quoted from the article)

Well, all that is impressive. But here is how UCI got there, according to the article:

The campus began laying the groundwork in 1983, when it created the Santa Ana Partnership with local schools, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton to improve college-going rates in the area. . . .

[The Center for Educational Partnerships, with its executive director Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio] serves 12,000 largely low-income students a year, three-fourths of them Latino, with programs to prepare them for college and help them succeed. It supports those interested in science, technology, engineering and math and helped develop a college-going plan for every high school student in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Affiliated faculty also conduct research and offer teacher training.

About 85% of high school students who work with the center complete the college prep coursework required for UC and Cal State, compared with the statewide average of 43% . . . . (quoted from the article)

Well, all that is impressive, too. And here’s something we haven’t heard about elsewhere: “UC Irvine’s performance reviews reward faculty who contribute to ‘inclusive excellence.’ The campus has created a database to connect faculty to opportunities to advance diversity and equity and has set a goal for at least half of them to be involved by 2020?21.” (quoted from the article) That clearly shows a university administration that is walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

Latino/Latina students quoted by Ms. Watanabe in the article describe the support that they have found at UCI, including supportive staff (like counselors who serve as mentors), engaged faculty (who offer many research opportunities to students), 25-plus Latino student organizations, and a Cross-Cultural Center (which supports the personal, academic, social, and cultural needs of students and is the first multicultural center in the University of California system). One particular student told Ms. Watanabe about discovering her “family” at “the Student Outreach and Retention Center, where she was able to find friends, leadership opportunities and food–peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that eased hunger pains since she could not afford a campus meal plan. She was hired by the center to develop mentorship programs and trained peer advisers to help students through such hardships as homesickness, breakups and academic struggles.” (quoted from the article)

So, our hats are off to UCI?and, of course, to other HSIs, which are working to serve previously underserved Hispanic students, who might need a bit of extra attention in order to make the leap into higher education as a first-generation-to-college student. If you have such a student in your home, there is no downside to taking a serious look at colleges that are HSIs. You might not find one to your liking, of course; but, if you do, it could be a game changer.

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