Goshen College will be co-sponsoring the first Indiana Latino Higher Education Conference at The University of Notre Dame on Thursday, April 13.

The goal of the conference is to showcase what Goshen College and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) have done in the past several years to promote Latino student enrollment and retention in higher education and to encourage other independent colleges to do the same. To be considered a HSI, the institution must have an undergraduate Latino enrollment of at least 25 percent.

This conference was conceived in early 2016 by Richard Aguirre, director of corporate and foundation relations, and Gilberto Perez Jr., senior director of intercultural development and educational partnerships, who proposed the idea to the Independent Colleges of Indiana (ICI).

Though not yet an HSI, Goshen College has made substantial progress in better serving its Latino population. Last year, Latinos made up 20 percent of the college’s enrollment, while the first-year class boasted 30 percent enrollment.

The conference will be attended by ICI presidents, administrators, faculty and staff, elected officials, corporate and community friends throughout Indiana to share and discuss ideas and information for serving Latino students in the state.

The keynote speaker for the conference will be Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation committed to creating opportunities for higher education for all students through grants, public policy advocacy and creating public will for change. Their goal is to create a country in which 60 percent of Americans have degrees by 2025.

Merisotis has served as the CEO of Lumina since 2008, but has been working on the accessibility of higher education for much longer through the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Other speakers include Luis Fraga, co-director for the Institute for Latino Studies, Ginger Rodriguez, vice president for academic affairs at Calumet College of St. Joseph (Indiana’s only Hispanic-Serving Institution), Angela Adams, associate general counsel for Indiana University, and James Brenneman, Goshen College president.

“I’m also very happy that President Brenneman will be serving as a host and convener of this conference,” said Aguirre, “which is appropriate because he is the person most responsible for increasing Latino enrollment at Goshen College.”

Brenneman will be a part of a panel discussion with other ICI presidents and students. The students will come from several independent colleges in Indiana: Marian University Calumet, College of St. Joseph, University of Notre Dame and Goshen College. Ally Medellin, a senior, plans to represent Goshen College.

“This conference also is a dream come true for me,” said Aguirre. “I am very grateful that I was able to propose an idea that was endorsed by others and will become a reality in April. It’s taken some hard work, but it’s been well worth it. And I believe the conference will raise Goshen College’s profile, help us get more funding for our programs and students and help us better serve the growing Latino community.”

Aguirre and Perez Jr. are both part of the HSI Committee created this past December by President Brenneman for the current and future president. The purpose of the committee is to increase Goshen College’s visibility, value, recruitment and retention with prospective and current Latino and other represented student groups.

“My ultimate vision is for Indiana’s independent colleges to combine efforts and to become destinations of choice for Latinos throughout the Midwest,” said Aguirre. “I believe that’s a realistic and achievable goal and I hope to promote this idea at the Latino Higher Education Conference. If that vision is embraced by other colleges, Indiana will greatly benefit from a surge of Latino college graduates who eventually will find jobs and settle in the Hoosier state and strengthen our communities and the state’s economy.”

President Brenneman also has high hopes for the conference, calling it a “pinnacle of much hard work at Goshen College”.

“I am so proud of the work Richard Aguirre has done to make this event possible,” Brenneman said. “From overall planning, logistical details, promotion, and much more, Richard has helped lead the Independent Colleges and Universities’ team, alongside our counterparts at Notre Dame, in bringing this conference to pass. He has poured his heart and soul into this event for which I am deeply grateful.”