Student members of Caminantes for Education create vision boards as the end of the school year approaches at Cal State Long Beach on March 19, 2024. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for CalMatters

For Athens Marron, transitioning from his hometown in the Coachella Valley to College of the Redwoods in Humboldt County felt isolating. Marron, a sociology major and ethnic studies minor, said he found it difficult to connect with other Latino students or participate in activities that would keep him from going directly home at the end of his day.

Shortly after transferring to Cal Poly Humboldt in fall 2022, he received an email about the PromotorX Transformative Educators Program, an opportunity funded by a federal Hispanic Serving Institutions grant.

“I signed up and went to the first meeting, and right away, it was a home away from home for me. It was that sense of community,” said Marron. “It definitely gave me more perspective on what I want to continue to pursue, which was education with high school students.”

Marron’s experience is exactly what the federal Hispanic Serving Institutions grant program was intended to do: create an environment on campus where Latino students feel like they belong, leading them to seek new opportunities on the path to graduation. Campuses have a wide range of flexibility in how they design their programs, and whether students are involved. The grants last up to five years, after which campuses can reapply for funding or find other ways to support their programs.

At that point, some programs may expand with new funding while others scale down, surviving only through the efforts of students or faculty. But experts say to truly serve Latino students and improve their outcomes, campuses must create programs that can keep running even after grant funding dries up.

Student Athens Marron at the Cal Poly Humboldt Library in Arcata on March 22, 2024. Photo by Mark McKenna for CalMatters

Marisol Ruiz, the PromotorX Transformative Educators Program coordinator and a tenured professor of education, trains students of color to be teachers. Students create lesson plans and teach at local high schools. The campus received $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Education starting in 2018, but as the program approaches the end of its grant cycle, Ruiz said that it may only continue unfunded and at a smaller scale.

“We can create nice positions, but who’s doing the work, and are we going to continue that work?” Ruiz said.

When the grants run out, even impactful programs like Cal Poly Humboldt’s can fizzle all together.

After the grant ends some colleges, such as Cal State Northridge, apply for new grants to improve their already successful programs. Others, like Cabrillo College and Cal State Long Beach, try to integrate programs campuswide or continue them as student organizations.

Moving beyond enrollment to serve Latino students

California colleges and universities enrolled over 900,000 Hispanic undergraduate students during the 2022-23 school year, 90% of whom attend a Hispanic Serving Institution. California’s Latino college population is nearly double the next closest state, Texas, where over 500,000 Latino undergraduates are enrolled.

Still, just 22% of Hispanic adults age 25 and older have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in California, compared to 56% of White non-Hispanic adults, according to Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit organization that supports Latino students in higher education. Researchers say intentionally serving Latino students means adjusting the structure of the campus to support their strengths beyond simply increasing Hispanic student enrollment.

To apply for funding, institutions must have at least a 50% low-income student enrollment and at least a 25% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment. Projects that receive federal dollars must follow non-discrimination requirements, meaning programs do not exclusively cater to Hispanic students.

California’s 172 Hispanic Serving colleges and universities have been some of the largest beneficiaries of the federal grant program. They have received $637 million in grants ranging from $500,000 to $1,00,000 since 1995. Still, advocates and students say the HSI designation is not synonymous with specifically meeting the needs of Latino students.

“One thing that makes us relate and come together is the fact that the institution doesn’t give us that sense of community,” Marron said. “They don’t serve us. It’s more like we’re creating that.”

The campus of Cal State Northridge in Northridge on August 19, 2022. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Providing training for faculty or creating student cohorts with peer academic support are approaches that have proven effective, according to Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education. But the Department of Education does not require that colleges tie their grants directly to student success.Santiago is a leading researcher in teaching methods that improve academic and non-academic outcomes for Latino students. Her organization launched the Seal of Excelencia in 2019 to create higher standards for supporting Latino students beyond enrollment. In California, 12 campuses are currently certified with the seal.

Certified institutions, like Cal State Northridge, have been recognized for their efforts to make their federal grant funded programs a lasting part of their campuses. Led by engineering and computer science professor, S.K. Ramesh, the campus reapplied and expanded its STEM program for Hispanic and other underserved students with consecutive grants. Ramesh said support from campus leadership, faculty and staff have been key to securing ongoing federal funding, and to integrate components the program piloted, like undergraduate research opportunities, campuswide.

“If the money, if the program, and the practices go away when the money ends, I feel like that’s disingenuous,” Santiago said. “You didn’t build capacity. You didn’t improve the institution. You just did a grant, and I don’t think we look at that enough to say, ‘Have you institutionalized what you’ve piloted so that it serves your students well beyond the grant?’”

Limited funding and staffing mean many successful programs don’t continue

Ruiz is the only coordinator leading the PromotorX Transformative Educators Program, something she says could be its own full-time position. Each semester, Ruiz trains groups of about 10 students in culturally responsive teaching. The predominantly Latino cohort of students received $600 stipends to host writing and editing workshops at local high schools and attended conferences that can cost $20,000 a year, according to Ruiz.

Ruiz also advises three student clubs, conducts her own research, teaches two courses and serves as a graduate program coordinator. She’s not had time to draft a new application, but is researching other funding sources to make her program a permanent part of the campus.

“We’re still teaching. We’re still advising. So I think, yeah, we need more support, ” Ruiz said.

Students are filling gaps in resources once programs end

At Cal State Long Beach, Latino students have stepped in to sustain some aspects of their HSI program that recently lost funding.

Starting in 2017, Cal State Long Beach received $2.4 million to launch the Caminos Project to encourage students to become teachers. The program also included curriculum development and outreach to high school students and their families.

Within four years, the program served 180 students who took courses together and had access to tutors and an academic advisor. For the duration of the Caminos Project, Latino enrollment in majors leading to credential programs increased by nearly 28%, according to Anna Ortiz, dean of the College of Education at Cal State Long Beach.

With the grant funding, the Caminos Project hired an academic coach, a program coordinator, and peer mentors. When the grant period ended in September 2023, only the former academic coach continued working at the campus. The program has transformed into a student club, Caminantes for Education, where students serve as unpaid board members.

First: Students part of Caminantes for Education create vision boards as the end of the school year approaches at Cal State Long Beach. Last: Jeremy Ramos looks through newspapers for his vision board. March 19, 2024. Photos by Zaydee Sanchez for CalMatters

“I feel like there was a good balance between different kinds of support as a student, and I know as a club it’s definitely not the same,” said Alexis Monsivais, a former member of the Caminos Project who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in December 2023.

The program has some lasting impacts, including curriculum changes in the course catalog and a collection of videos on culturally responsive teaching for new mentors and faculty. However, Monsivais said that as a new club, they have struggled to find allies on campus and were pushed out of their designated room in the College of Education once federal funding ended.

“The power of having a program coordinator, someone older like an academic coach, someone there who’s actively vouching for you — that was definitely a struggle that we had for the first year,” Monsivais said about the challenges of transitioning to a club.

Campuses creating institutional change beyond grants

Some leaders have integrated the idea of servingness into their programs. Created by leading HSI scholars like Gina Ann Garcia, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Education, the framework outlines how campuses can better support Latino students.

“If we think about what our Latine students need, then we change the organization to adapt to the students instead of expecting students to adapt to the institution,” Garcia said.

Starting in 2019, Cabrillo College received $3 million to improve its transfer pathway to Cal State Monterey Bay for 30 students each year. The partnership also provided academic counselors and peer mentors.

During the 2021-22 school year, the program at Cabrillo College served 27 students — over 90% of them were Latino. Around 30% of Latino and low-income students were ready to transfer with their degrees within two years, compared to the 10% who earned their degrees in two years but were not program participants. Cabrillo College has signed a guarantee with Cal State Monterey Bay for transfer admission, which Cabrillo College’s Title V Director, Ann Endris, said helps their work continue after the grant.

While the program at Cabrillo College has been successful in graduating its Latino students, Endris, who helps manage federal HSI grants at Cabrillo College, said grant funded programs should not be the only place on campuses that offer support for Latino students.

Cabrillo College established an HSI task force of over 50 faculty, staff and administrators in 2021 to provide recommendations on how the campus can provide support for students outside of programs funded by Hispanic Serving Institutions grants. The college also established an HSI leadership team to ensure that the recommendations are put into practice.

“We have really developed HSI as a full-on initiative and movement at Cabrillo so that these grants are not in an isolated corner,” Endris said. “It doesn’t matter what shared governance meeting you’re in. If you’re in Faculty Senate or wherever you are, people are talking about HSI and HSI work.”

Endris said that even after their grant period ends, the program will continue partnering with Cal State Monterey Bay to bring the strategies from its transfer pathways to other programs. They still plan to collaborate with peer mentors from Cal State Monterey Bay to guide transfer students and keep tools that have helped academic counselors.

Students walk through campus at Cabrillo College in Aptos on Dec. 7, 2023. Photo by Loren Elliott for CalMatters

Like at Cabrillo, building upon successful grant programs has been the focus at Cal State Northridge. Ramesh has been the sole writer of the HSI grants, with guidance from fellow faculty, since he joined the university as a dean in 2006. After noticing that some students did not have role models in engineering, he launched the Attract, Inspire, Mentor and Support Students program.

He secured a $5.4 million HSI STEM grant starting in 2011. The program provided engineering students with study skills, time management workshops, community research opportunities along with faculty and peer mentors from their majors. Over a six-year period, the program served 138 students from Cal State Northridge and 377 students from College of the Canyons and Glendale Community College.

Cal State Northridge then received $6.2 million in 2016 from the same federal grant, which was used to continue the program. This time, the program served 500 students at Cal State Northridge and 3,000 students at four partner community colleges over another six-year period. Cal State Northridge students in the program had six-year graduation rates of 85% during the first grant period and 92% during the second grant, compared to Cal State Northridge’s average of 56%.

The grant has affected students beyond those who enrolled in the program. Undergraduate research opportunities and peer mentorship programs, both piloted by the HSI program, are now offered campuswide by the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Ramesh said some programs may be well-intentioned, but they may only serve a handful of students, and not all aspects of the program can be scaled to a larger student population without sufficient staff, space and funding.

“So strategically at the top, there has to be buy-in at the university level,” Ramesh said. “There has to be buy-in at the faculty level, there has to be buy-in at the staff level. Everybody plays a part in this because it’s not just one group that can take sole responsibility for either implementing the program or measuring the outcomes.”


Barahona is a fellow with the College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists from across California. CalMatters higher education coverage is supported by a grant from the College Futures Foundation.

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