Becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution

Rhode Island College Impact

RIC is the first college in the state to earn this federal designation, which opens new opportunities for students.

In 2022 Rhode Island College became the first four-year baccalaureate institution of higher education in the state to earn the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designation.* It was both a recognition of the growing diversity in our student body and the college’s mission to serve all Rhode Islanders.

“One of Rhode Island College’s greatest strengths is the diversity of our students,” says Anna Cano-Morales, interim vice president of external relations and diversity, equity and inclusion. “The Hispanic Serving Institution designation is a recognition of that diversity as well as our institutional commitment to expanding equity and inclusion in higher education for all.”

“We are extremely proud to be the first school in Rhode Island to earn the Hispanic Serving Institution status,” said former RIC President Frank D. Sánchez, the first Hispanic-American president of a college or university in Rhode Island at the time of the announcement. “This is in keeping with our legacy of being the state’s first public institution of higher education as well as our ongoing mission to put a four-year degree within reach for more Rhode Islanders.”

What is a Hispanic Serving Institution? And what does it mean for the college to earn this designation? Most importantly, how will it impact our campus community and our state? The following pages offer a brief explainer.

What is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI)?

HSI status is a federal designation defined by the Higher Education Act and designated by the U.S. Department of Education. It acknowledges Title V-eligible colleges and universities where 25 percent or more of total undergraduate full-time equivalent student enrollment identifies as Hispanic or Latinx.

As of 2021, there were 559 HSIs across 29 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, enrolling two-thirds of all Hispanic/Latinx undergraduates in the United States. RIC currently has the highest percentage of Hispanic/Latinx students of any institution of higher education in the state, at 25 percent.

How did RIC earn HSI status?

Eligibility to be an HSI must be met annually. As long as at least 25 percent of total undergraduate full-time equivalent students identify as Hispanic or Latinx, the college will maintain its HSI designation. 

HSI status is a recognition of RIC’s growing student diversity and its dedication to expanding access to higher education for all Rhode Islanders. This designation is also a reflection of the state’s changing demographic landscape. HSIs tend to serve high concentrations of diverse populations that have historically been underrepresented in higher education, have high percentages of low-income students and serve a large number of first-generation college students. With nearly 40 percent of RIC undergraduates identifying as people of color and nearly half identifying as the first in their families to attend college, the school educates the most economically, culturally and racially diverse cross-section of Rhode Islanders of any four-year institution in the state.

What does HSI status do for the college?

HSI designation makes the college eligible to apply for additional Title III and Title V federal funding. These grants would strengthen the college as a whole. Typically, these are funds targeted at building capacity for institutions of higher education to better serve Hispanic/Latinx students. This, in turn, builds capacity for all students. In addition to enabling colleges to expand educational opportunities for and improve the academic attainment of Hispanic/Latinx students, these federal funds are intended to expand and enhance the academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability of the colleges and universities that educate the majority of Hispanic students nationwide.

The additional grant funding, for which RIC becomes eligible with HSI status, including both federal funds available only to HSIs and those from foundations and philanthropies that support HSIs, can be utilized to expand academic programs and enhance institutional strengths that support students at the college. 

How is the college taking action on HSI status?

RIC appointed a campus-wide HSI task force to establish goals and metrics related to this designation. This group developed a report and a series of recommendations for the college’s administration. In addition, a small core group from this task force worked to help create a comprehensive development plan in preparation for competing for federal grants. The college hopes to strengthen existing relationships with community partners such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Policy Institute and other civic organizations. It has already joined the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 500 schools committed to Hispanic higher education success in the United States, Puerto Rico, Latin America and Spain, and will seek the seal of approval from Excelencia in Education, a national nonprofit that accelerates Latino student success, enhancing our workforce, leadership and economy.

During Spring Semester 2022, M.S.W. student Taquasia Stevens interned in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and conducted a series of student focus groups on campus as part of her practicum work. She collected important feedback and input that was presented to the administration for consideration.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion also submitted a planning grant in May through the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. This grant is currently under review. In June the college applied for a Title V infrastructure grant to develop and implement a five-year comprehensive plan to support expanded educational opportunities for, and improve academic and career attainment of, Latinx and low-income students. This would build off of initiatives already begun through the Division of Student Success and the Division of Academic Affairs.

Why is this recognition significant for the college?

With Rhode Island’s Hispanic/Latinx population growing by nearly 40 percent over the last decade, from 12.4 percent in the 2010 census to 16.6 percent in 2020, HSI status is aligned with the college’s mission to make a four-year degree accessible to all Rhode Islanders.

HSI status could also increase institutional stability and longevity by bolstering RIC’s efforts to increase enrollments. With the number of high school graduates in New England expected to decline by nearly 13 percent over the next 15 years, Hispanic/Latinx students represent one of the few growth areas for recruitment. Though 16.6 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic/Latinx, they account for 22 percent of all K-12 students in Rhode Island and approximately 68 percent of all Providence public school students. 

Similarly, the school has identified transfer students as a high-priority opportunity to grow its enrollments. In 2018 Hispanic/Latinx students earned nearly one quarter of all associate degrees nationwide.

How does the college support Hispanic/Latinx students?

Some of the unique supports RIC provides to better serve the Hispanic/Latinx community are: 

  • Project ExCEL, which helps English language learners transition from part-time students in ESL classes to matriculating students on a degree track;
  • Preparatory Enrollment Program, a federally-funded TRIO program for first-year students; 
  • Learning for Life, an office that connects students to resources both on and off campus to help them overcome obstacles to graduation;
  • Spanish-language and bilingual First Year Seminars; and
  • The Workforce Development Hub in Central Falls, which provides ESL and continuing education classes and nondegree job-training programs in a community where more than 66 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic/Latinx.

However, “this designation does not mean that we are done,” Cano-Morales notes. “We have work to do in order to make sure that our engagement with Hispanic/Latinx communities doesn’t stop at enrollment but translates into RIC being of service to our students who identify as Hispanic/Latinx. We are proud that our campus community continues to look more representative of the state that it serves every year.”