Community leaders boost UWM’s Hispanic-serving institution efforts

A group of nine people stand in a room.

In October, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee convened the first meeting of the community advisory board for its Chancellor’s Committee for Hispanic Serving Initiatives. It’s the latest step in UWM’s efforts to become a Hispanic-serving institution, or HSI.

Those three letters carry national and local significance. To earn federal HSI status, 25 percent of a university’s undergraduate students must be Latino. The university is steadily working toward that goal, an effort that began well before UWM announced the launch of its HSI chancellor’s committee.

The 11-member advisory board includes UWM alumni and representatives from nonprofit organizations, government offices and K-12 schools.

“Ensuring Hispanic students have access to higher education opportunities is critical to the future of Milwaukee and our economy,” said Ricardo Diaz, who co-chairs the board with Patricia Contreras.

“I believe UWM is ideally suited to serve a growing demographic of Hispanic young people,” said Diaz, the United Community Center’s executive director. “As an alum and the director of agency that serves more than 1,500 students daily, I hope I can bring a unique perspective to ensure UWM can be an accessible institution for the community and continue to build a diverse workforce.”

When UWM announced its HSI goals in October 2016, about 9 percent of its enrollment was Latino. Now, that number stands at 10 percent. Enrollment trends indicate a Latino enrollment of 11 percent or more is achievable by fall 2018.

An HSI designation brings with it additional funding and resources to serve this fast-growing population of college-aged students. Degree in hand, they become the multilingual, multicultural professionals that employers need to rebuild the country’s aging workforce. Alverno College this year became the first higher education institution in Wisconsin to achieve HSI status.

“Working to achieve HSI status continues to align well with our mission and campus culture,” said UWM Chancellor Mark Mone. “UWM is an increasingly good fit for Latino students due to our affordability, our wide array of high-quality academic programs and our direct support services, including tutoring and advising.”

Co-chair Contreras, who is Rockwell Automation’s director of global community relations and contributions, agrees with that thought.

“Speaking from experience, I can say that UWM is a great place for Latino and Latina students,” she said. “One of its greatest assets is its diverse campus that reflects the diversity of our city and the globe.”

The HSI efforts build upon a legacy started by 12 UWM Latino students in 1970. The students shared a list of demands with then-chancellor J. Martin Klotsche, and atop the list was the creation of a Spanish-Speaking Outreach Institute to recruit and serve Latino students.

Nearly 50 years later, that work continues at the Roberto Hernández Center, which provides academic and financial advising as well as networking and cultural events for UWM’s 2,000-plus Latino students.

“Students tell us having a dedicated ‘home away from home,’ like the RHC, and a thriving Latino community near campus makes UWM a welcoming place for them,” said Alberto Maldonado, who directs the center and also leads the HSI committee. “Many of these students are first-generation, so our public tuition rates and close-to-home connections also make us a good destination for Latinos from Wisconsin and, increasingly, Illinois.”

Enrollment of Latino students in Milwaukee-area K-12 schools grew by more than 21,000 from 1997 to 2014, while non-Hispanic enrollment dropped by 32,000. Within Milwaukee city limits, Latino enrollment climbed from 8 to 25 percent in K-12 schools starting in the late 1980s. More are graduating from high school and enrolling in college, too.

UWM is reaching out to Milwaukee’s Latino high schoolers earlier than ever through its M3 (pronounced “M-cubed”) partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Area Technical College. UWM is also engaging Latino students in other new and existing community partnerships, enhanced outreach initiatives and new campus visit opportunities.

Mone would love it if every one of these students finds their way to UWM because, he says, it’s the right thing to do for the university and the economy.

“Our enhanced HSI efforts will help all UWM students,” Mone said, “through increased campus diversity and being part of a multiethnic population that mirrors the country’s demographics, and through preparing students for life after college.”

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