- Fernando Rivera, Professor and Director, UCF Puerto Rico Research Hub, University of Central Florida
- Mitzy González, Program Manager, Coalition of Urban Serving Universities at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities
- Zoé Colón, Community Partnerships Manager, UCF Parramore Education & Innovation District, University of Central Florida
FCAN host: Kathy McDonald, Assistant Director for Network Partnerships
To help wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month, FCAN hosted an Oct. 15 webinar highlighting the importance of supporting Latinx students as they pursue education beyond high school and look to earn in-demand jobs. The webinar outlined some of the resources available to help the rapidly-growing Latinx population in Central Florida, shared information about the partnerships that made those supports possible, and defined what it means to be a Hispanic Serving Institution.
Latinos in Florida
Florida has the third-largest Latinx population in the nation (26%), trailing only California and Texas. The state experienced a 76% increase in the number of Puerto Ricans who call Florida home between 2000 and 2010, which does not even include the influx that arrived in Central Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“After the hurricane, Puerto Ricans came to Florida — and, in particular, Central Florida — because there was already a growing community here,” said Dr. Fernando Rivera, professor and director at the University of Central Florida’s Puerto Rico Research Hub. Rivera offered an overview of Latinx population trends for the United States., Florida, and Orange County in Central Florida. “The growth of the Latinx population in the U.S. has been consistent since 2010, and this is something everyone has to face in terms of the demographic changes that are happening.”
While two-year graduation rates for Latinos in Florida (60%) far outpace the national average (33%), they still trail their white peers within the state (35% to 44%) in degree completion for associate’s degrees or higher.
Get to Know: Hispanic Serving Institutions
UCF is one of the institutions in Florida leading the way in Latinx student success and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Mitzy González, program manager for the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, said HSIs are defined by the Higher Education Act as “degree-granting institutions with full-time equivalent undergraduate enrollments of at least 25% Hispanic students.”
The number of HSIs has more than doubled in the last 25 years, swelling from 189 in the 1994-95 academic year to 539 HSIs in 2018-19. Latino student enrollment at HSIs has more than quadrupled in that same time period, growing from 490,000 in 1994-95 to 2.1 million Latinx undergraduates.
Still, González noted that a school being designated as a “Hispanic Serving Institution” based on enrollment is not a guarantee that it is serving its students well.
“We need to ensure that there is a systematic, focused, and data-driven effort to support the institutional change that is happening on our campuses to increase Latino student success,” González said. “Part of that starts with having the vulnerability internally to say, ‘How are we doing?’” Gonzalez shared there are three keys to realizing the goal of serving Latino students — increasing enrollment, increasing completion, and building an inclusive culture.
Why Collaboration is Key
The webinar concluded with the importance of university-community partnerships and some of the initiatives that have strengthened support for Latinx students in Central Florida.
Zoé Colón, community partnerships manager at UCF’s Parramore Education & Innovation District, shared that UCF has previously partnered externally with organizations like Excelencia in Education and Latinos in Action while also working on initiatives that support students in the classroom and increase Latinx visibility at the university.
“It’s also important to think about faculty, and how do we foster a sense of community on campus,” said Colón, noting that UCF is home to organizations like the Latino Faculty & Student Association (LaFASA) and Multicultural Academic & Support Services (MASS). “It’s important to have places where they feel at home.”
To learn more about supports for Latinx students — or to view the webinar and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:
Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.