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As a new student at Front Range Community College, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico during high school, Susana Gallegos, tried her best to navigate college on her own.
She also knew that when she needed help, Front Range was there to support her.
When Gallegos looks back now at her time at Front Range, she can’t imagine where she would be today without guidance from an adviser, who helped her eventually get into Colorado State University, and a leadership program — the Latinx Excellence Achievement and Development Scholars — which gave her the courage to apply.
Now as Front Range nears the 25% population mark of students enrolled who identify as Latino or Hispanic — the percentage needed to be a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution — Gallegos said she looks forward to seeing the changes that designation will bring to the college to help it further support students like her with achieving their dreams.
“We need to be more diverse with who is teaching at Front Range, who is in the higher positions, and (we need) special places for Latinx students, where everyone can go and hang out,” Gallegos said. “I would love to see that on Front Range, where you can identify and feel like part of (the college).”
About two years ago, Front Range began examining the community college’s racial demographic, and found a growing number of students who identify as Latino or Hispanic.
In 2018, 19% of the student population at Front Range identified as “Latinx,” according to data from the community college. That number climbed to 20% in 2019; 22% in 2020; 23% in 2021; and 24% this year.
The number of high school students who identify as “Latinx” in Front Range’s concurrent enrollment program, which allows students in ninth- through 12th-grades to take college classes for high school and college credit, has also increased in recent years.
In 2018, 22% of students in the concurrent enrollment program identified as “Latinx”; 23% in 2019; 24% in 2020; 25% in 2021; and 26% this year.
During that time, the administration at the community college realized it was nearing the enrollment percentage needed to become a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, which lets colleges in on grants specifically aimed to help schools expand educational opportunities for Hispanic and Latino students. Front Range anticipates it will be able to apply to be an HSI by 2023 or 2024, said Jessica Peterson, FRCC spokesperson.
Grants Front Range may apply for when that day comes include Title V, which offers a five-year grant to support Hispanic-Serving Institutions with expanding the services they offer to support success for Hispanic or “Latinx” students, Peterson said. The second is aid from the National Science Foundation, which offers a multi-year grant that provides support for improving undergraduate education for HSIs.
The maximum annual award for Title V funding is $120,000. For the NSF grant, the maximum is around $67,000 per year, Peterson said.
Tricia Johnson, vice president of the Front Range Westminster campus, said the community college has been working hard for many years to get to this point of having 25% of students — across all campuses — identify as either Latino or Hispanic.
“We have committed to hiring individuals who are certified as bilingual representatives in a variety of offices across our campuses as a way to really help our students and our families,” Johnson said. “We also have two leadership programs that focus on leadership development for our Latinx (population). A lot of these are about empowering our students from their identity and recognizing the inherent value that they bring to our college.”
One of those the programs that has assisted Front Range with its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is Latinx Excellence Achievement and Development Scholars, which Gallegos is now a co-chair for in addition to her role with Front Range as a bilingual pathways adviser.
“We just want students to participate, and I just love that,” Gallegos said. “I am based on the Boulder (County) campus, and I see some Latinos there but they’re a little group, and I feel like they attach to each other because they realize we are all dealing with the same feelings.”
Now, as Front Range approaches the 25% enrollment number needed to become an HSI, it has implemented a task force composed of various subcommittees tasked with evaluating how the college can meet the needs of currently enrolled Hispanic and Latino students and future students, Johnson said.
“The (HSI) number is simply a recognition by the federal government,” Johnson said. “That isn’t why we are doing this work. We are doing this work to ensure that our students feel that their identities are respected and reflected.
“Even if it were to take us multiple years for us to get to the 25%, we wouldn’t stop this work because it is critical for our students.”
After leaving school at Colorado State University,  Emilia Morales enrolled atFRCC, and quickly noticed the stark differences between the two schools when it came to programs and clubs offered for students who identify as Latino or Hispanic.
But that was to be expected, as the size difference between the campuses is also stark, she said.
Even with the noticeable difference, Morales said she noticed Front Range’s push to offer more — to be more diverse and inclusive.
At Front Range, she joined Leaders in Ethnic Intersectionality and Advocacy (LEIA) program — similar to LEADS — on the Westminster campus. She is also now a peer advocate at Front Range’s first multicultural center on the Westminster campus, which just opened up last month. The center will have a diversity library for campus use, study space, a resource center, and will host a number of programs dedicated to showcasing and learning about different cultures that make up the student body and campus community at FRCC.
“I definitely think for any campus, (diversity, equity and inclusion is) always going to be a revolving door,” Morales said. “No campus is going to be perfect at it. I would say Front Range is doing really well. I think creating the spaces has been really important. I think, for me, a big part of that was opening up the multicultural center.”
Programs like LEIA and LEADS have helped Front Range get to where it is today with 24% of its student population identifying as either Hispanic or Latino, said Becky Chavez, the TRIO Student Support Services program director at Front Range. Chavez also played an instrumental part in starting LEADS at Front Range years ago.
Chavez added that people like Gallegos, who attended Front Range as students, are now running the program and drawing students of diverse backgrounds to its campuses.
“Our LEADS students were now running the program and that was an amazing realization to see that full circle happen,” she said. “It wasn’t intentional. They wanted to give back to the community that supported them.”
Now, Chavez is ready to see the Latino and Hispanic population grow even more as its resources expand thanks to the expected HSI designation. When Front Range is able to register as designated HSI, that will open the door to Title V that it can’t currently access, Chavez said. Her hope is that this funding will allow Front Range to continue not only to strengthen current programs like LEADS, but will help it begin new ones.
“My vision would be that we are not just being a silo for Front Range, but it will hopefully help us to reach out so that we can potentially start creating that college going culture from the elementary level,” Chavez said.
When Kathleen Hefley learned about a new task force being formed at Front Range earlier this year, she was eager to join.
During her time at Front Range, Hefley has helped with professional development and has served on other committees, she said. Now she wanted to lend her knowledge and experience to the new HSI task force, which is made up of five subcommittees: communication; institutional practices; enrollment and outcomes; student advisory; and professional development.
Hefley asked to be on the professional development subcommittee and is now not only a member but leads the subcommittee as its co-chair, she said.
“I’ve been involved in other college-wide programs and task forces in the past,” said Hefley, a student success coordinator and faculty member at Front Range. “What I have always appreciated about that process is that it’s my belief that to really be a good educator and educational institution, it really requires being dynamic and evolving and responding to our students’ needs.”
Hefley said her group has met less than a handful of times and is kicking off its work by putting together a general assessment to send out to faculty and staff to gauge how much they know about what a HSI is and what the designation will mean for Front Range.
“We need to understand where people are and what they are interested in,” she said. “We are looking at a variety of different things such as bringing in guest speakers, a common book read among faculty and staff related to being a HSI, workshops and student-led workshops.”
For Hefley the process to become an HSI is not just exciting for her to a part of but is exciting for Front Range as a whole, she said.
“It is giving us the opportunity to really reflect on how we serve students,” she said. “That is something that everyone in the task force is really interested in examining — what are the things that we do well and what are the things that we can evaluate and fix?”
Even after Front Range has achieved its goal of becoming an HSI, the work being done by the task force and programs like LEADS and TRIO will not be finished.It’s a long-term process, Johnson said.
“I am proud to say that we have been focusing on action — recognizing that it will take us not simply talking about the culture that we want to have at our college but acting on that and ensuring that the students of our community see that we have been taking seriously the commitment to the Latinx population,” she said.
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