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Opinion: Columbia should think about support for Hispanic students amidst HSI delay 

Columbia College Chicago will have to wait until next year to apply for federal grant funding from the Department of Education because the application requires enrollment numbers from 2021 when the college had not yet met the criteria to be a Hispanic-serving institution. 

The college’s Hispanic student population has been growing since 2019 when it was 18.6%. According to Columbia’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness it increased to 28.2% of 6,529 students, in Fall 2023. 

However, without funding and support from the college, Hispanic students might find it difficult to carry themselves through college. 

The National Center for Education Statistics found in 2021 that 7.7% of Hispanic students drop out and over half of Latinx college students considered doing so.

The most common reason for Hispanic students to dropout is emotional stress, personal mental health and the cost of programs, according to a study from Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education. 

As a child of Mexican immigrants, I wanted to make my parents proud and be the first in my family to attend college in this country. But, I was nervous about adding a financial burden onto my parents. It was a guilt that I have carried throughout my college career. 

After transferring to Columbia, I planned to apply for Hispanic scholarships but realized that I wasn’t eligible for most because I didn’t belong to a Hispanic-serving institution. 

It was discouraging to see that many of the scholarships where I felt I was the ideal candidate, I was not eligible for since my institution wasn’t an HSI — it made me question my decision to attend Columbia. 

Now more than ever is student retention important for the college, as spring enrollment saw a 12% decrease from 6,529 in the Fall 2023 semester to 5,757. Columbia is expected to lose another 1,000 students by Fall 2024, as the Chronicle previously reported.

President and CEO Kwang Wu-Kim said enrollment declines were due to the historic seven-week-long part-time faculty strike last fall. 

Senior Associate Provost Nathan Bakkum told the Chronicle that the college delayed forming a committee to formally apply for the distinction because of the strike and work on the President and CEO Kwang Wu-Kim’s Draft Advisory Report. 

“We want to be sure that we marshal the expertise and enthusiasm of our dedicated faculty and staff to ensure a successful HSI application,” he said. 

However, the college has yet to hire a DEI director after Jessica Meharry’s departure in August 2023 and because of an immediate hiring freeze issued since the financial deficit grew to $38 million, announced during Kim’s “State of the College” address on Tuesday, Feb. 6. 

Hiring a DEI director would not only make sense when pursuing the application process for the HSI distinction, but would show Columbia’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion, even during a financial crisis. 

To better support this historically underserved community, the college should prioritize forming a committee and putting all of the possible resources to obtain more grant funding for Hispanic students to lower their financial stress. The college needs financial support more than ever and the distinction would help.

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