Greetings, Colleagues,

The observation of National Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, and was expanded to a 30-day period and enacted into law in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan.

On Wednesday, September 15th, ACC launched a month-long celebration for Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month and will be hosting a series of virtual events for the ACC community. During this month of action and reflection we not only recognize and honor the participation of our Latinx students, faculty, and staff, but also look more broadly at the achievements and contributions made by Hispanics in the local and global community, our fields of study, the curriculum, leadership roles, as change agents and in our own familia (family).

In 2011, Austin Community College (ACC) met criteria to become certified as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HIS) by the US Department of Education when it reached ≥25% total undergraduate Hispanic or Latinx full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment. This designation made ACC eligible to compete for grants set aside for HSIs under The White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics, which was re-established in 2021 by President Joe Biden. The Initiative was originally established by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community. The initiative’s scope was expanded to advance educational equity and economic opportunity for Latinx and Hispanic students, families, and communities. For more information, you can read the White House Proclamation on National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week 2021 article.

Through our student success efforts over the years, ACC has focused initiatives to retain enrollments and close the gaps on outcome attainment for our Latinx learners, enabling us to receive the Seal of Excelencia award in 2019 by Excelencia in Education, for the increasing Hispanic student persistence/retention rates. ACC is again a finalist for the award this year.

In the September 2020 Equity Gaps report shared by the Office of Institutional Research & Analytics (OIRA), Vice Chancellor Dr. Jenna Cullinane Hege, notes we have made strides in closing equity gaps for Hispanic/Latinx learners:

  • Proportions of Hispanic/Latinx students enrolling and earning awards now more closely mirror representation in the community.
  • Persistence rate gaps have been reduced among Hispanic students.
  • Persistence rates among new students in student success courses are nearly equal across race/ethnic groups.
  • Targeted support services have larger, positive impacts on persistence for historically underserved populations.
  • Rapid improvements in developmental education have increased success for all student groups, especially Hispanic/Latinx students, but outcomes continue to vary considerably by subject area and race/ethnicity group.

As we celebrate these improvements, we have ongoing challenges in other areas for our most vulnerable students. This graph shared by the OIRA team during our Future of Transfer and Transition Summit depicts the lingering gaps in three-year transfer rates for Hispanic and Black students. We also find that Hispanic students are overrepresented in developmental education and, although only 38.4% of the total student population, Hispanic students accounted for 46.2% of developmental math students and 52.8% of Integrated Reading and Writing students.

We are also challenged to ensure greater inclusion of diverse faculty and staff. Per our Academic Master Plan, our Hispanic student population in Credit is 38%, in Continuing Education 32% and in Adult Education 67%, while our Hispanic full-time faculty represent only 16% and our Hispanic adjuncts 11% of the faculty corps. During a presentation I made at the 2021 Excelencia Leadership Institute this week, the importance of faculty mentoring and professional development opportunities was emphasized as a key to hiring and retaining faculty who are members of historically underrepresented groups. In ‘Cultivate Belonging,’ Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, founder of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity explains:

“First and foremost, the first semester is a critical time for mentoring new faculty because once they get settled in, that’s precisely the time that all kinds of new needs (information, contacts, and resources) will surface. But, even more important, the first term is exactly when the new person will be seeking social connections, professional acceptance, and a place within the department. In other words, it’s a time when a critically important (but frequently overlooked) need emerges: the need for belonging.”

Cultivate Belonging” Inside Higher Ed, August 5, 2013

Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD

During the summit, Dr. Eyre Perez, Director of Technical Assistance at Excelencia presented “Framing, Not Blaming: Improving Transfer in Texas for Latino Student Success.” She and other presenters share equity-focused, research-based strategies to improve our persistence and transfer outcomes, and outline alternative pathway opportunities. Recordings from this 4-day event include presentations on “(Re)Envisioning Transfer Through an Equity Lens Grounded in Student Perspectives,” and “Reframing how to Assist Male Students of Color to Successfully Navigate their Enrollment, Persistence, Degree Completion and Transfer to Four-year Institutions.”

To support improved student outcomes, ACC also offers the college-readiness Ascender program, open to all first-year ACC students wanting to earn a bachelor’s degree. Designed in a cohort model, this program helps students prepare for university transfer alongside a group of peers, receive one-on-one mentoring, attend family-friendly events, and receive customized student support. Students also receive accelerated instruction in English and Math, academic counseling, and writing assistance, yielding outcomes that are 9% – 16% higher than non-ascender courses in English 1301 and EDUC 1300, and a significant 39% point increase in Introduction to Mexican American Studies.

Additional efforts across the college in Continuing Education, Adult Education, College Marketing, Library Services and others have also focused on development of programs, services, or resources considering the needs of Latinx learners. Our Mexican American Studies (MAS) program and our Latin American Studies Center, known as “El Centro,” are collaborating to expand contextualized courses across the curriculum, increase capacity of faculty to teach the already approved courses, build a library of MAS/Latinx Studies with input from MAS faculty, and partnering with the Department of Mexican American/Latina/o Studies at University of Texas and the Bilingual/Bicultural Education at UTSA on articulation agreements. Lydia Cdebaca-cruz, who wears many hats as a College Associate in the Ascender Program, an Adjunct Faculty in English and Literary Studies, and Program Coordinator, Mexican American/Chicano Studies, also shares that We “have goals to create internal MAS tracks in other high-demand programs for Latinx students as well as to expand partnerships with ECHS programs, but our current priority is on the articulation agreements with 4-years. Our transfer initiatives are not only working to provide seamless transition, but collaborating to expand more diverse and culturally responsive core curriculum offerings that will be accepted towards degree requirements in transfer.

To further support our HSI efforts, this past summer TLED hosted a bi-weekly, cross-college collaborative Spanish Language ‘practice’ series called CHARLA, to help ACC employees gain practice and exposure to reading, listening, and speaking Spanish in support of our Latinx students. Session facilitators representing Student Affairs, faculty, El Centro, Human Resources, and TLED helped guide the conversation, translate as needed, and post or share vocabulary. We will continue the series later this fall around our “Purpose and Belonging” Theme (Tema de Propósito y Sentido de Pertenencia).

It does take a village, and ACC is focusing on culturally responsive approaches to meet the unique needs of learners in reaching their goals and creating environments of belonging. More about HSI initiatives, the CHARLAs and opportunities for you to participate will be provided later this semester. Please feel free to share this information with your faculty and staff, and join the Hispanic/LatinX Heritage Month Activities.

Share more information about how ACC supports our Latinx students in the comments below!

We look forward to connecting, collaborating, and nurturing a culture of care with you.

In shared purpose and belonging,

Susan

Susan M. Thomason, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor, TLED
sthomaso@austincc.edu