Second Georgia college designated as Hispanic Serving Institution

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia Gwinnett College’s growing Hispanic student enrollment has given it a new federal designation that comes with more potential funding.

The college announced Monday that it has been designated as the state’s second Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), a U.S. Department of Education distinction earned by schools where at least a quarter of students are Hispanic.

“It’s just continued reaffirmation of our diversity,” said Provost George Low in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Low said the college’s enrollment reflects the makeup of Gwinnett County, where a majority of its students hail from. About 22% of the county’s population is Hispanic, according to 2021 U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

In 2021, Georgia Gwinnett enrolled 2,852 Hispanic students, or 26% of its roughly 11,000 students. Though the University System of Georgia has yet to release enrollment numbers for this fall, the school said preliminary counts show Hispanic student enrollment grew another percentage point.

Dalton State College was the first public school in Georgia to receive the HSI designation. Nearly 35% of the students who enrolled there last year were Hispanic, according to state data.

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Gaby Sifuentes, a 19-year-old Georgia Gwinnett sophomore studying psychology, said she’s proud to go to an HSI. She’s heard many stories of Hispanic and Latino students “struggling to find a way” to go to college, while balancing other demands such as helping out their families.

“To finally get that support and just be able to accomplish something like that, I think it just brings so much more light to our community,” she said, in an interview with the AJC.

Sifuentes, a commuter student who graduated from Gwinnett County’s Lanier High School, is president of the college’s Organization of Latin American Students.

The group hosts educational and social events and networking meet-ups, just one of the resources that connect Hispanic students on campus.

“A lot of us come from immigrant families. We’re first-generation students, and we’re kind of mapping our own path,” she said. “It’s a way to have that sense of community while helping each other.”

Now that it has the HSI status, Georgia Gwinnett is eligible for more federal funding. Low said the college already received the first boost, about $2.17 million in federal pandemic relief dollars, because it has the designation.

He said the money will be used to expand the campus food pantry and to support students through internship opportunities and assistance with room and board costs, among other plans. Low said the college also plans to apply for additional funding for which it’s newly eligible as a HSI.

“This milestone recognizes the work GGC has done and will continue to do to create a successful academic experience for our students,” said the college’s president, Jann L. Joseph, in a written statement.

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In 2011, the school’s Hispanic enrollment was just over 10%, according to state data.

Low expects Hispanic student numbers to continue to climb. He said the college has invested in a number of services and campus initiatives to help students — many of whom are the first in their families to go to college — succeed.

Last fall, nearly 36,000 Hispanic students enrolled in Georgia’s 26 public colleges and universities. That’s 10.5% of the University System’s total enrollment, according to its data.

Other public colleges in the state with higher percentages of Hispanic students include Georgia Highlands College, with 18%, and the University of North Georgia, with 15%.

Nationwide, there are more than 450 HSI-designated schools. Most are in California, Texas and Puerto Rico.