Will Marymount University be able to keep its designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution this year?

By Melissa J. Gomez Angarita 

Photos by Unsplash

Will Marymount University be able to keep its designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution this year? A decline of more than 600,000 students enrolling last spring in colleges and universities across the country has made evident the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in the access to education; according to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse that registered the biggest year-to-year drop in a decade. The 25% Hispanic student population that put Marymount on track in 2020 to become Virginia’s first recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) may have decreased this year, raising questions about the standing of the designation. 

The U.S. Department of Education and its Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) manage the process of certifying HSI’s nationally and provide specific grants in programs such as Developing HSI, HSI STEM, and Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans, focused on institutions serving underrepresented communities. The designation and the stimulus related to it would benefit not only the Hispanic and low-income student body at Marymount, but also the entire institution’s competitiveness and academic quality. 

The 2021 student census to be conducted on Oct. 15, will examine data from nearly 3,900 students at Marymount and determine whether the university kept the required 25% full-time undergraduate student population identified as Hispanic to maintain the HSI status. 

According to Ann Boudinot, assistant vice president for planning and institutional effectiveness said,

“Marymount conducts an enrollment census by capturing a snapshot of all students’ enrollment data from the university’s information systems.” 

Currently, the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU) lists 323 member institutions nationwide that qualify as HSI, including Marymount University. Dr. Rita Wong, associate vice-president of research at Marymount, said HACU recognition is relevant, for it leads big funders like the National Science Foundation who also labels the university as an HSI, thus allowing it to apply for grants specifically targeted to these types of institutions. Being designated as an HSI, Wong said, it allows Marymount to obtain extra points during the review process for grant applications, which increases the likelihood of being funded. Wong also said there are currently several applications pending for grants, such as the McNair TRIO grant that benefits underrepresented students, and for which Marymount, as an HSI, qualifies. 

Nicholas Munson, communication and public relations manager at Marymount University said, “The HSI designation has allowed MU to develop programs such as a partnership with Netflix and 2U to increase diversity in the tech fields via free tech boot camps for students to
build essential skills in Data Science, Java Engineering and UX/UI design.” As well as other programs that focus on Hispanic students, multilingual students and those from medically underserved communities.
However, in order to access the stimulus offered by the Department of Education, the university will have to wait for the official designation and census reports to be reflected in their Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which can take up to two years after the original submission for HSI status. 

The review process of most grant applications can take from six to twelve months and the focus for this funding, Wong said, will be strengthening the university’s programs to achieve the educational goals of the students, including more tutoring, support for research programs with paid student participation and improved academic success infrastructure. “Although the grants may have an emphasis on our Hispanic and underrepresented students, the entire university benefits from it and the activities that we have are not limited to a certain group of students,“ Wong said. “In cultural terms, for the public, I think it is really helpful to see that we are really an institution that is very diverse, and we are living in an area with a high Hispanic population, so we are supportive and embracing of the community and want to support students of Hispanic and Latinx background,” Wong said.

On the other hand, changes in student diversity levels also affect Marymount’s likelihood of maintaining high rankings of Campus Ethnic Diversity and Number of International Students in which the university has been highly competitive amongst regional universities of the south, according to U.S News and World Report’s Best Colleges Ranking. These indicators translate into Marymount’s levels of recognition in the region and potential for an increased student enrollment in the future.

The university’s ethnically-diverse student population is approximately 48% of the total student body according to the 2020 Fall Student Body Report, an indicator that relates directly to the pillar of “Global Perspective” championed by the university in its efforts to build an inclusive and diverse community.

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