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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Hispanic student enrollment up at Milwaukee-area universities as schools increase efforts

Emily Files
The Roberto Hernández Center is a long-standing student support center at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Nine southeast Wisconsin colleges and universities have made public commitments to increase their Hispanic student enrollment, and better support those students.

The schools aim to become or maintain their status as Hispanic-Serving Institutions — a federal designation given to universities with 25% or more Hispanic undergraduates. The designation opens the door for universities to access more federal funding.

So far, Wisconsin has two HSIs: Alverno College and Mount Mary University.

WUWM checked in with the nine schools that are part of the HSI-NOW network, a coalition of Wisconsin higher education institutions pursuing HSI status.

Marquette University

Marquette announced its intention to become an HSI in spring 2016. Hispanic undergraduate student enrollment has gradually increased since then, from 10.6% to 15.2%. Freshman enrollment this year is 18% Hispanic.

Courtesy Jacki Black
Jacki Black is Director for Hispanic Initiatives and Diversity & Inclusion Educational Programming at Marquette University.

Jacki Black is Director for Hispanic Initiatives at Marquette. She said demographic trends are one reason Marquette is pursuing HSI status. As the number of white college-aged students in the Midwest declines, the Hispanic population is growing. In Wisconsin, it’s the fastest-growing demographic.

"So that was certainly a reason to pursue the initiative as well, to look at where trends are going in higher ed, and how we can better position our institution to work with those students and to bring them to our campus," Black said.

Some of Marquette's efforts include expanding Spanish language outreach, increasing bilingual admissions and financial aid staff, building partnerships with Cristo Rey high schools, and providing financial aid and emergency funds.

Marquette has also been working to diversify faculty and staff through Race, Ethnic, and Indigenous Studies cluster hires.

Sergio González, the school’s first and only Latinx Studies professor, was one of the recent hires.

"It seemed like a great opportunity to be part of something bigger to help Marquette serve a community that quite honestly, for a century, it had not," González said.

John Sibilski Photography
Sergio González, Assistant Professor of Latinx Studies, says Marquette's HSI initiative was one of the reasons he accepted a job at the school.

But González said his faith in the HSI effort has waned recently. As reported by the Marquette Wire, last year, Provost Kimo Ah Yun mistakenly said that becoming an HSI was no longer part of Marquette’s strategic plan. Ah Yun has since reaffirmed the HSI commitment.

González is also concerned that Marquette cancelled its REIS cluster hires in 2020. Marquette spokesman Kevin Conway said the hires were withdrawn due to enrollment concerns.

"As the result of a drop in undergraduate enrollment, the decision was made to withdraw those positions at the time so that we could focus on retaining our strong and diverse faculty already at Marquette," Conway said.

González said he feels the HSI progress is at risk of stagnating if Marquette doesn't hire more staff to work on it and more faculty to teach Latinx Studies. Most importantly, he said, students need more financial aid.

"It’s no mystery that Marquette is one of the most expensive schools in the area," González said. "And so while other colleges and universities in the Milwaukee area have pledged to become HSIs, Marquette has this secondary barrier that it’s really expensive for students to come here. And so it needs to make a larger financial commitment to Milwaukee and other area students who want to come to Marquette."

Director for Hispanic Initiatives Jacki Black said there’s also work to be done to make Marquette a welcoming place for students of color.

"To transform an institution that historically has been a very white institution to one that centers the voices and experiences of underrepresented students takes time, it takes intentionality, it takes resources, it takes institutional will and courage," Black said. "So it is a process."

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The history of UWM's relationship with Latinos can be found in the name of its Hispanic student support center: Roberto Hernández.

In the late 1960s, Hernández was one of less than a dozen Hispanic students at UWM. He and other activists pressured UWM to do better, and one subsequent change was the creation of the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. It was eventually renamed for Hernández.

"To look at where we are today [compared to then] it is really uplifting and really promising for this next generation of students who are choosing to come here," said Roberto Hernández Director Alberto Maldonado, who is also co-lead of UWM's Hispanic Serving Initiatives committee.

Emily Files
Patricia Nájera and Alberto Maldonado are co-leads of UWM's Chancellors Committee for Hispanic Student Initiatives. They are pictured here in the Roberto Hernández Center.

Maldonado said UWM is currently at 13.1% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment and hopes to attain the 25% threshold by the 2028-29 school year.

UWM Hispanic Students Initiatives co-lead Patricia Torres Najera said their work is not just about enrolling students, but supporting them through graduation and into careers.

"If you look at number of different workforce development reports, there's a lack of [Hispanic] professionals in different disciplines," Torres Najera said. "How do we educate families and help them think about what are their children going to do after high school? That's part of this — they will have a better quality of life if they think about going to school and think about different professions."

Some of the steps UWM has taken as part of the HSI initiative include: offering a bilingual open house, creating an HSI scholarship fund, creating Spanish-language recruitment materials, and hiring bilingual admissions staff.

Mount Mary University

Mount Mary attained HSI status in 2020, and the designation has already garnered the school more than $7 million in federal grants.

The largest of the grants — $4.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education — will fund a four-year program to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income women enrolled in STEM programs by 10%.

Mount Mary's undergraduate enrollment was 31% Hispanic in 2021, compared to 21% in 2017.

Jason Meyler, a Spanish professor and member of Mount Mary's Latinx task force, said the school didn't necessarily set out to become an HSI — it just happened.

"It was a very grassroots, organic happening," Meyler said. "It was in 2019 that we noticed we were at 24% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment. [Then] we decided to make more of an intentional effort to support, recruit and retain Hispanic students."

Emily Files
Mount Mary Dean of the School of Natural and Health Sciences Cheryl Bailey and Associate Professor of Spanish Jason Meyler.

Meyler said since then, Mount Mary has worked to translate materials into Spanish, hire admissions counselors who are bilingual and post signage in multiple languages.

Reaching the 25% threshold for HSI status is easier for a small school like Mount Mary, with 727 undergraduate students.

Cheryl Bailey, Dean of Mount Mary's School of Natural and Health Sciences, has talked to other schools in the HSI-NOW network about replicating Mount Mary's success.

"They ask about what do you think is the secret sauce, right? I'll say well it doesn't have only one ingredient, but I will say one important ingredient is we build relationships with our students," Bailey said. "Larger institutions will need to think about how they'll do that."

Like the other schools in this story, Mount Mary's graduate school enrollment is much whiter, with just 8% Hispanic students.

Alverno College

Alverno was the first school in Wisconsin to receive the HSI designation, in 2017. Full-time undergraduate enrollment for fall 2021 is 38% Hispanic, according to spokeswoman Kelly Cole.

Through its HSI status, Cole said Alverno has been able to access two federal grants totaling $750,000. One of the grants, through the USDA, helped fund a campus greenhouse. The other grant, through the National Science Foundation, aims to expand the number of women and students of color in STEM fields.

Carroll University

Carroll University in Waukesha launched its HSI initiative in 2017. Its latest enrollment data shows out of 3,416 students, 9.3% are Hispanic.

Senior communication specialist Kelly Gehringer said Carroll has a number of programs geared toward enrolling and supporting Hispanic students. The newest such initiative is a Nursing Pipeline Opportunity Program launched in fall 2021. Carroll faculty teach students earning an associate's degree in nursing at a lab within the United Community Center.

Gateway Technical College

Gateway, based in Racine, is getting close to the threshold needed to become an HSI. In Fall 2019, 24.5% of students were Hispanic.

Gateway spokesperson Lee Colony said Hispanic student enrollment declined during the pandemic. He said the unofficial enrollment number for 2020 is 22%.

Colony said Gateway has become more intentional about its outreach to the Hispanic community in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties. The school now has a dedicated outreach specialist, is translating recruitment and marketing literature into Spanish, and started offering Spanish tours.

Gateway has also launched a Spanish-language program for employees and increased professional development specific to Hispanic student issues, in an effort to create a more welcoming environment.

Milwaukee Area Technical College

MATC aims to become an HSI by 2024. Its most recent Hispanic student enrollment is 18%, according to spokesperson Ginny Gnadt.

Gnadt said the work MATC has done to recruit and support Hispanic students includes hiring bilingual call center and recruitment staff, hosting a bilingual open house and establishing the DACA Plus scholarship.

MATC also plans to expand bilingual academic programs and increase the number of bilingual courses by 20% by the end of spring 2022.

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

MIAD became an "emerging" Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2019 — meaning it reached 15% Hispanic student enrollment. For fall 2021, 17% of students identify as Hispanic, including 18.2% of new students.

President Jeff Morin said MIAD hired an additional student support counselor to serve students of color, along with a new bilingual admissions counselor. There is also a Latinx student organization in the works.

MIAD has also taken steps to diversify faculty and staff — mainly through a fellowship program that brings master's degree graduates from underrepresented populations into college-level teaching positions. Morin said MIAD has hired seven of the fellows over the past year.

University of Wisconsin-Parkside

Parkside, located in Kenosha, is the first four-year UW institution to become an "emerging" HSI, with undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment at 20%. The university aims to achieve full HSI status by 2025.

Peggy James, Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies, said Parkside is adding another full-time staff member to focus on serving Hispanic students. She said the university has also established scholarships with preference for Hispanic students and developed a bilingual website and Spanish-language recruiting events.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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