JOLIET – Joliet Junior College is on the verge of becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution because of the increasing numbers of Hispanic students enrolled at the college.
The college could be designated as an HSI under the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities or the U.S. Department of Education to become eligible for federal money – under Title V of the Higher Education Act – to improve education of Hispanic students.
JJC will seek to become an HSI under the federal education department, as that will expand the college’s opportunity to apply for grants to fund student-centered programs and services, Yolanda Isaacs, JJC student development vice president, said in an email.
“It also speaks to our vision statement of being the first choice for students and the community. We want all students, including our Latino/Hispanic student population and families, to choose JJC as their first choice for education and community resources,” Isaacs said in the email.
Michelle Roman-Garcia, the college’s multicultural student affairs director, said she hopes the college will be in a good place for Hispanic students when the time comes.
“The [Title V] grant can be used for many things but we want to make sure our school is more than just a school that enrolls Latino students but is also retaining them and graduating them,” Roman-Garcia said.
The Hispanic student population at JJC has been the second-largest demographic at the college, with white non-Hispanic students comprising the largest.
For the spring semester, the number of Hispanic students at JJC hit 25.3 percent and is now at the point where the college can qualify as an HSI, for which the total enrollment of Hispanic students at a minimum must consist of that amount.
According to the JJC spring 2016 census report, the number of Hispanic students at the school has gone from 3,240 students in 2012 to 3,650, representing an increase of about 12.7 percent.
There are nine HSIs as designated by HACU statewide and 261 nationwide, according to HACU. That list includes community colleges such as Waubonsee Community College and Morton College.
Isaacs said that since the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs was established in 2004, JJC continues to commit to serving diverse students. It does so through culturally relevant outreach programs and activities, and it received an award in 2015 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for Latino history programming.
Roman-Garcia said she thinks the Hispanic student population has been growing at the college because JJC is accessible and affordable.
Even if those students have barriers such as English language skills or not finishing high school, they can learn English or take GED preparation classes at JJC, she said.
JJC also assists undocumented students who are Hispanic through the multicultural affairs office and a support group called Dreamers Advancing in Leadership and Education.
Roman-Garcia said JJC is trying to be responsive to student needs and one important goal is having every frontline department at the college have one bilingual staff member.
“Slowly we’re trying to infuse and integrate the need to be Spanish-serving because that is the fastest-growing [population],” she said.