OGDEN – Weber State University President Brad Mortensen said there was a practical element to the school’s new push to bolster Latin American enrollment.
As the state grows, it will need more and more skilled workers to keep the economy growing. Recruiting more Latino students, traditionally underrepresented in higher education, is one way to help create the necessary educated workforce.
“It’s just really listening to our community,” he said. “And if we’re going to prepare the workforce that our lawmakers and economic development officials tell us we’ll need for the future, we need to make sure we educate all of our populations, and the Hispanic community has been underserved. , quite honestly.
And now, those ongoing efforts – which took on redoubled importance with Weber State’s decision to seek emerging Hispanic services institution status – have a new lease of life: $ 500,000 in grants from Ally Financial, a service company. digital financials.
The funding, $ 100,000 a year for five years, “really gives us a boost” in things like diversifying Weber State’s staff and faculty and expanding the program to align with culture and Hispanic history, Mortensen said. Such movements are some of the initial efforts to boost Latin American enrollment, as well as increased recruitment of Latino students into public schools.
“I call their sponsorship the accelerator,” he said.
Weber state officials are seeking Emerging Hispanic Service Institution Status, or EHSI, a designation from the U.S. Department of Education, which involves increasing Hispanic school enrollment to 15% of the student body. Currently, Latinos make up about 11% of the university’s student body.
The 15% threshold is a preliminary step toward the larger goal of becoming a Hispanic Service Institution, or HSI. This requires a 25% Latino enrollment and provides access to additional federal funding.
The push for EHSI and HSI status aligns with Weber State’s role as an open-enrollment university, reaching out to all qualified students seeking higher education, Mortensen said. The goal is outlined in the university’s five-year strategic plan, called Weber State Amplified.
Notably, however, this also occurs against a backdrop of particularly strong growth in Utah’s Latin American population.
“The Hispanic / Latinx population is the fastest growing segment of the population across the state. It’s magnified here in Weber County, ”he said.
The Ogden school district, he noted, is the only one in the state with a majority minority population headed by Latinos. Some 50.2% of students in the district, 5,263 of the total, identify as Latino, according to figures for the 2021-2022 school year released earlier this month by the Utah State Board of Education.
Beyond that, he noted the large population of Latinos in schools in the Weber School District, 4,490 students, 13.7% of the total, and schools in the Davis School District, 8,179 students, 11.3 % of total.
Despite the growing population, Latinos historically lag behind non-Hispanic whites in education levels. According to Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit group that advocates for ‘success in higher education’ among Latinos, 60% of Latino adults in 2017 had a high school diploma or less, compared to 46% of whites. non-Hispanic. Likewise, only 20% of Latinos had a bachelor’s degree in 2019, lower than African Americans (30%), non-Hispanic whites (40%) and Asians (61%), according to the group.
In addition to the educational equity issues raised by such statistics, Mortensen noted the potential impact on the economy of failing to strengthen the educational prospects of the burgeoning Latin American population. “To keep Utah’s economy strong and vibrant, we will need this educated workforce. We cannot leave any segment of our society behind as we try to do it, ”he said.
Weber State hopes to achieve EHSI status, requiring a 15% Latino student body, within five years. It has not determined a timeframe for reaching HSI status. The HSI designation would pave the way for additional scholarship opportunities for Latinos and other federal funding.