UC Davis approaches benchmark to qualify as Hispanic Serving Institution
The University of California (UC) made its strongest effort yet to create a more inclusive public university system by admitting the most diverse class in its history this fall. Following efforts by the UC to recruit from disadvantaged high schools and communities, 38 percent of first-year students are minorities who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.
UC Davis, while average compared to other UC schools in terms of admitting black students and other minority groups, showed the most promise in its move toward a greater share of Latinx and Chicanx students.
The Latinx/Chicanx community is the fastest-growing demographic group at UC Davis, making up 24.6 percent of the incoming first-year class this Fall and reflecting over 1000 additional students from the previous year. The 24.6 percent figure is also important because when UC Davis hits a 25 percent Hispanic population as a whole, it becomes eligible to be designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) which can then receive extra funding from the federal government.
UC Davis’ drive to become an HSI was led in part by then-chancellor Linda Katehi who, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, said, “We’re aggressively pursuing this goal because it’s right for the state and our kids and because our shifting demographics make it clear that if California and the U.S. are to remain competitive, we can’t afford to leave behind this growing population.”
The goal she outlined was to earn the distinction by the 2018-19 school year, which couldn’t come soon enough. The Latinx community is the largest ethnic group in California — 39 percent as of 2014 — so ensuring that they are recruited to Davis isn’t just a matter of earning the HSI distinction; it’s a matter of creating equal opportunity. When one group is underrepresented — and several are at Davis — the quality of education and student life decreases for everybody.
With few exceptions, students who are exposed to a more diverse educational environment have been shown to hold more positive racial attitudes than their peers in more homogenous environments. At a time when social divisions seem to be ever-widening, and UC Davis has its own trouble with racial sensitivity, the need for inclusivity takes on an added urgency.
It’s imperative, then, that once this university becomes a Hispanic Serving Institution, investments be made in student scholarships and in programs like Achieve UC, which sends admissions representatives on recruitment missions to high schools with low college attendance rates. There’s no reason that UC Davis shouldn’t model itself after UC Merced, an HSI that was founded partly on the promise of expanding educational opportunity for disadvantaged Hispanics in the Central Valley.
If UC Davis “adopts” schools in the Sacramento area with the goal of engaging potential students, it will create a unique opportunity to be academically competitive on both a global and local stage.
Funding should also be diverted to programs that already exist on campus, like ones provided by the Student Recruitment and Retention Center, that assist in retaining students who may be at risk of dropping out of school. Encouraging a more diverse student body amounts to nothing more than lip service if steps aren’t taken to guarantee that disadvantaged students find community and academic help.
But even with the HSI designation imminent, problems remain. At the UC Regents meeting in May, UC officials acknowledged that African Americans on tenure track made up only two to four percent of faculty on all campuses. Latinx faculty made up two to twelve percent. Only until the University of California can guarantee diverse undergraduate, graduate and faculty populations can it fully achieve the ideal that a public university should be open to everybody.