Colorado Mountain College: Hispanic Serving Institute designation benefits all students

An aerial view of the Colorado Mountain College Breckenridge campus on June 21, 2021. As a Hispanic Serving Institute, the college has new opportunities for funding, networking and faculty recruitment.
Photo by Ashley Low

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Colorado Mountain College Senior Inclusivity Officer Richard Gonzales’ name.

Colorado Mountain College received the Hispanic Serving Institute designation earlier this year, meaning the college successfully supports a student population that is 25% or more Hispanic.

The designation opens up many opportunities for the college, and officials are proud of what reaching this designation means about the work they’ve done.

“We have a range of emotions around this, from extreme pride to extraordinary joy,” Colorado Mountain College Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi said. “It is unusual to see a college move so quickly toward Hispanic Serving Institution status.”

Gianneschi said the Hispanic population at the college has not only doubled in a few years, but their performance improved so much that the community’s graduation and retention rates are higher than the overall average. He said while the designation shows that the college has improved its support of historically underserved students, its numbers have improved collegewide, too.

In 2013, the college’s Latino population was about 13%, and while the college’s overall enrollment is lower than it was in 2013, it now serves a population that is almost 28% Latino, according to the college. The Summit County campuses in Breckenridge and Dillon had a student population that was just under 16% Latino this academic year. The college has also doubled the number of degrees and certificates it awards annually since 2013.

“We set a goal that we would improve our performance among students who have been historically underserved in higher education,” Gianneschi said. “But at the same time, it would come at no expense of other students, and so that for us is the definition of equitable outcomes, that everybody got better.”

Richard Gonzales, senior inclusivity officer at Colorado Mountain College, said the designation means the college has a responsibility to understand what its entire student community looks like and needs, now and in the future. He said it’s important to look at why the college was originally created and how that has changed to serve a larger, more diverse student population today.

“That means we need to understand our community better: their countries of origin, their family histories, access points of families to our programs, whether they understand what we do and how we do it,” Gonzales said. “We really want to be an authentic serving institution.”

The college is now one of just over 500 Hispanic Serving Institutions in the country. About a third of Colorado’s public universities hold the designation, but Colorado Mountain College is the first in the mountain region of the state. Typically, schools with the designation are located in more metropolitan areas.

“We’re very much a unique institution to become (a Hispanic Serving Institute), and so we feel like it’s going to offer some ways for us to continue innovating on how we deliver education effectively,” Gonzales said.

Gianneschi said while working toward its goal of achieving this recognition, the college implemented specific strategies to make itself more supportive of Hispanic students, such as having bilingual front desk attendees across the college. He said he and other members of the college’s leadership team oppose the idea of “Band-Aid solutions,” and they try to think more systematically about how students experience the college, from financial aid to advising to tutoring.

Chief Operating Officer & Chief of Staff Matt Gianneschi discusses the proposed Colorado Mountain College student housing project near the CMC Breckenridge campus, June 21, 2021.
Photo by Ashley Low

Gianneschi said one of the biggest contributors to increasing the Hispanic student population — and not intentionally so — was the college’s concurrent enrollment programs with local high schools. He said this allowed the college’s population to be more reflective of the local populations as more students continued their education with the college after graduation. The college received a grant that it distributed to local high schools to support students simultaneously enrolled at the college, and because that was so successful, the college got several other grants to further enhance the program.

Gianneschi said concurrent enrollment with Summit High School has grown dramatically in the past few years in particular.

Another factor that was more intentional was the President’s Scholarship, which is automatically offered to all graduating seniors who attend a high school within the college’s local community. A letter is sent to students in January, and those who apply and fill out a financial aid application on time get the scholarship.

“Every single graduating student at every single high school anywhere in the CMC tax district will get a personal letter from the president saying, ‘I not only want you to come to CMC, but you’ve already been admitted and here’s a scholarship to help you,'” Gianneschi said.

He added that this helps students financially, but it also helps get them organized and start the transition into the college experience. He said the students who take this offer are disproportionately lower-income, first-generation college students.

With regard to Hispanic students, Gonzales said this designation means that the college is there for them and is willing to do whatever it takes to support their needs.

“We want to know what those needs are, and we intend to take steps to address those needs,” Gonzales said.

Gianneschi and Gonzales agreed that another advantage of the Hispanic Serving Institute designation is that Colorado Mountain College is now part of a nationwide network of minority-serving institutions the college can learn from. Gianneschi said the designation also helps from a faculty recruitment standpoint, as the college will be more desirable to those looking to serve minority communities.

“That may immediately create recognition about how the institution operates and the expectations we have for our employees and the kind of priorities we have around our academics,” Gianneschi said.

The designation also qualifies the college for federal grants aimed to improve minority-serving institutions, and Gianneschi said it gives the college an advantage when applying for funding to update campus infrastructure.

“The benefits of a Hispanic Serving Institution designation extend to all students,” Gianneschi said. “It’s really a recognition, and kind of a celebration, of communities and our ability to achieve something that is more often reserved or limited to areas that are large, dense, urban regions and not necessarily those of small communities located in very high-cost resort destinations.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.