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TWIN FALLS — Before Eunise Hilt ever attended the College of Southern Idaho she felt its influence in her household. She saw the guidance her older sister received from faculty and staff and knew about the scholarship opportunities and programs to help immigrants navigate their education. When it was time for her to pick a school, she knew CSI was the right choice.

CSI is on track for its full-time, Hispanic student population to hit 25 percent within the next two years. This would make the college eligible to apply for a Hispanic-Serving Institution designation from the U.S. Department of Education.

If approved, it would become the first institution in Idaho to receive the designation.

“CSI has been working on increasing the number of Hispanic students here to reflect our commitment to the region the college serves,” said CSI President Jeff Fox. “Through many years of focused initiatives and great effort on the part of recruiting, advising and instructional staff, the college Hispanic student population has grown.”

For Hilt, a criminal justice major who was born in Mexico, the growth in the number of Hispanic students is a testament to a culture of inclusivity on campus.

“In high school I used to say I was Hispanic. In college I don’t,” she said. “Now I’m close with a lot of people, white, Hispanic, whatever. They’re all my friends.”

The Hispanic-Serving Institution designation is a Title V grant program that was created to support institutions in improving the higher education of Hispanics. This means that schools with this label are able to apply for funding non-HSI institutions cannot. This significantly reduces competition for grant funding from a pool of thousands of schools to fewer than 500, said CSI grant writer Matt English.

“What we determined is that we were undeserving the Hispanic community,” he said. “We wanted the community to know that we are here for them. We want them to succeed.”

When the college received the funding from a Title III grant in 2016, it put the money toward developing programs that catered to non-traditional students such as those working full-time and students with children. It was also able to bolster already existing programs.

Grant funding can also be used to cover startup costs for new programs. With the new designation the possibility for creating programs and services would increase.

“It could be a game-changer,” English said.

Hispanic enrollment has grown at a steady clip of about 1% a year. This uptick began in the 1980s and has continued in line with south-central Idaho’s Hispanic population growth. It is now at 24.1 percent Hispanic enrollment.

From the University of Central Florida making Spanish merchandise and promotional material to California’s Cal State Long Beach establishing its Center for Latino Community, institutions of higher education nationwide are making moves to diversify its campus and increase resources for a multilingual and multiethnic pool of students.

CSI is working on designing an alternate logo to reflect its Hispanic demographic as well as translating its motto, “stay near, go far” to the Spanish “quedate cerca, llega lejos,” according to Cesar Perez, CSI’s Hispanic liaison and director of the Jerome and Gooding centers.

“Even before we were close to be an HSI, we were already putting steps in place to support our Hispanic students,” Perez said. “We want them to feel that thirst for knowledge.”

Neighboring high schools have also been involved in outreach efforts through CSI’s Bridge to Success Program, which brings degree-seeking seniors set to graduate and those with GEDs to the campus through an eight-week summer program that introduces students to the campus, develops computational skills and emphasizes math. While it targets all area students, the program has seen major success with the Hispanic community.

“I’m a first-gen college student, and it was very hard. I could have used the Bridge Program when I was going to school,” said Rosey Alberdi, the Bridge program coordinator. “I think they see a familiar face, they hear a familiar story and it makes them feel safe and secure.”

For first-generation college students who have parents with language needs, it can be difficult to get involved with their child’s education, Perez said. CSI is developing a parent college, which invites parents to come and learn about how to navigate the higher education system. The program is open to all parents of current and future CSI students.

Representation is important to students like Hilt not only because it helps students with other students, but because of how it impacts student success.

“It’s important because it helps you gain confidence and it makes you want to educate yourself more,” she said. “It motivates you to do better.”

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