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Dominican University of California Awarded Department of Education HSI Grant

Dominican University of California has been awarded a five-year $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve educational outcomes for Hispanic students. 

The grant will support Dominican in expanding undergraduate programming and introducing new initiatives to increase first-year and transfer enrollment and improve retention and graduation rates for Hispanic students.

“We have already developed a successful infrastructure of academic, career, and wrap-around services to support a diverse body of students, as evidenced by our strong retention and graduation rates,” says Dr. Mojgan Behmand, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty. 

“Dominican will become even stronger at welcoming, supporting, and graduating a larger number of Hispanic and underserved students.” 

The “Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions” grant is a direct result of Dominican’s recent designation as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI). Under the broader MSI designation, Dominican qualifies as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), with more than 25% of the university’s 1,374 undergraduate students in 2020 identifying as Hispanic.

While Hispanic Americans are the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority in the United States, they are half as likely to hold a college degree as non-Hispanic white adults. The education gap is widening. In fall 2020, U.S. Hispanic higher education enrollment dropped more than 5% and first-time enrollment among Hispanic students fell almost 20%.

Responding to the crises of inequity and economic disparity by making available a high-touch, intimately scaled education to students who have not been able to access this in the past is a priority of Dominican President Nicola Pitchford.

This is a critical time to extend the benefits of a four-year campus experience to underserved students, President Pitchford says.

“COVID-19 has ravaged the Hispanic community and other communities of color. As a result, students are delaying, and in many cases abandoning, their dreams of higher education. Dominican is a four-year university where Hispanic students from Marin and neighboring counties can thrive,” she says.

“For too long, many Hispanic students have had scarce access to small, residential campuses where interaction with faculty is frequent and learning opportunities exist around every corner. Hispanic students are disproportionately enrolled in two-year programs in community colleges, where there is a perception of greater fit and affordability.”

Hispanic and low-income students, many of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college, often face obstacles accessing a college education. These are also the same students who are either unaware of student services or do not take advantage of the services and thus struggle even more once they are enrolled. Lack of belonging in the campus community exacerbates these issues.

In the past decade, the university has developed a network of programming and support equally accessible to students of all backgrounds and identities. The nationally-recognized Dominican Experience enables all students to engage in research-backed “high-impact practices” that nurture deep learning and achievement.

The success of the Dominican Experience is evident in the university’s enrollment and student achievement measures. Since Fall 2011, the percentage of undergraduate students of color, particularly Asian American and Hispanic, has increased by nearly 30%. In this same period, graduation rates for first-time first-year students have improved by more than 70%. In 2011, the four-year graduation rate was 72% and the six-year rate was 74%, well above the national averages of 41% and 60%.

The grant, with funding spread over five years, will allow Dominican to focus on four key points in a student’s trajectory: access, connection, success, and completion. 

Plans include developing college-readiness programs for underserved high school students, creating a summer bridge program for rising first-year Dominican students and their families, and streamlining the transfer process for community college students.

The university will expand the “integrative coaching” and peer mentor programs that guide and support students from enrollment through graduation. Meanwhile, Dominican will expand professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to help create a more inclusive and welcoming campus for students from all backgrounds. The focus of this professional development will be on the strengths that diverse students bring to the classroom.

Funds will support The Center for the Dominican Experience which, when it opens next fall, will house the Center for Community Engagement & Partnerships, the Student Success Center, the Digital Portfolio Lab, the Global Education Office, and the Accessibility and Disability Resources Center.

Dominican also plans to expand its work with community partners serving underserved communities.

 “We will continue to cultivate core partnerships in underserved local communities based on mutual learning and reciprocity, creating robust learning and intentional experiences for students in the community, leading to paid internships, jobs, and ultimately, satisfying careers,” Dr. Behmand says. 

“This work entails a strong foundation of trust and collaboration with organizations that serve the marginalized communities in Marin County. As research has long established, engaging with the community is a high-impact practice that benefits all students.”