Goshen College is within 5 percent and approximately two years of reaching its goal of being a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

This week, President Barack Obama declared Sept. 12 through Sept. 18 National Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Week. Goshen College is an emerging HSI, with this year’s Hispanic student population reaching 20 percent of all full-time undergraduate students.

A Hispanic-Serving Institution is an institute of higher education that has an enrollment of full-time undergraduates with at least 25 percent Hispanic students. According to NBC News, there are 435 qualified HSIs in the U.S. and 310 “emerging HSIs,” whose Hispanic population is between 15 and 24 percent.

When an institute becomes a Hispanic-Serving Institute, it receives grant funding to help with strengthening institutional programs, facilities and services to grow and expand on the educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans, as well as other underrepresented populations.

In his proclamation, President Obama stressed the importance HSIs have on our nation, and how “an education can broaden horizons and empower us to be better people and better citizens, and no one should be left out of that opportunity.”

With Hispanics being projected to make up a third of the total U.S. population by 2060, President Obama emphasized the correlation between ensuring access to education and securing our success as a country. In the past decade, GC has been doing its part to contribute to this effort.

Back in 2005, the percentage of Latino students at GC was only four percent. Now today, it is up to 20 percent.

“Once we reach HSI status (25 percent), doors open up for us to seek federal funding to help us fund programs that we are doing here at GC,” said GC President Jim Brenneman, “and initiate other collaborative programs with, say, local HSI high schools to enhance access to college for Hispanic and first-generation students.”

Goshen College also stands out in its retention and graduation rate of Latino students. “Our retention rate and graduation rate of Latino students last year was 77 percent,” said Richard Aguirre, director of corporate and foundation relations, “and our overall retention rate was 79 percent, which is extremely rare.”

Aguirre credits this success to the 12.5 million dollar grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2006.

“It allowed for intercultural transformation of the college through bridge programs, stepped up recruitment, hiring of diverse people and scholarship assistance for Latino students,” said Aguirre. “What’s incredible is that we were able to increase so greatly over what was a very difficult period with the market crash in 2008. So much of that was due to Brenneman’s work with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU.”

Goshen College has been an affiliate member of HACU since early in Brenneman’s presidency.

“I was asked to serve as a regional rep on the Associate Member Advisory group about four years ago, and then finally on the national board this past year,” said Brenneman.

Brenneman credits GC’s recognition to how we’re a “small college in the Midwest doing some unique things which have catapulted knowledge of GC onto the national stage with our links with HACU. For GC to have associated ourselves with this national (and some international colleges) body of HSI colleges and universities, we’ve been provided with wonderful opportunities for us to learn from others on how to better serve our Hispanic students and build connections with like-minded colleges and universities.”

Aguirre also said Brenneman’s work to increase community outreach has helped attract more local high school students to the college.

“With 51.5 percent of Goshen Community Schools being Latino, there’s a strong need to reach out and identify with the students in our own community,” said Aguirre. “We have to make sure all students know they’re welcome here at Goshen College. We’re continuing to do things to not only recruit but also retain Latino students.”

Aguirre is the lead organizer from Goshen College of the Latino Higher Education Conference, which will take place next spring. The event is co-sponsored by Independent Colleges of Indiana, which represents the 31 private colleges in Indiana, and the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. “That’s going to allow us to share what we’ve learned and bring in experts who will tell us and others how to continue moving forward,” said Aguirre.

With his retirement approaching, Brenneman is hoping the new president will be willing to fill his remaining term of service with HACU and that the switch would be acceptable with the HACU board.