UC Irvine may seems an unlikely haven for Latino students. The campus is located in what used to be a largely white Republican community, home now to so many Asians that people joke that UCI stands for University of Chinese Immigrants.
But the Irvine campus is now the most popular UC choice for Latino freshmen applicants, topping longtime leader UCLA for the first time last fall. And last month the campus won federal recognition for serving Latinos – a still-rare distinction among elite research universities.
In all, 492 campuses in 19 states and Puerto Rico have been designated Hispanic Serving Institutions, which allows them to apply for about $100 million annually in federal research grants. To qualify, the campus student population must be 25% Latino, with more than half financially needy.
In California, nearly all Cal State campuses, at least half of California Community Colleges and half of UC campuses have received the recognition. But UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara are the only HSI campuses among the 62 members of the Assn. of American Universities – an elite network of public and private research universities that includes the Ivy League, UC, Stanford, and USC.
Just three of the nation’s 100 universities with the largest federal research portfolios are HSI campuses – UC Irvine ranking second to a specialized cancer center at the University of Texas, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents 1,600 colleges and universities.
“One concern about major research universities is that they don’t necessarily look like the population of the United States,” Harle said. “They are overrepresented with whites and Asians and underrepresented with African Americans and Hispanics.
“What you’re seeing at UC Irvine… is a conscious decision to make certain they expand the nature of the population they’re serving.”
UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the campus has pushed to diversity its campus as part of its public mission and urged other top institutions to do the same.
“We think it’s important to show that greater higher education can be there for all of the people,” he said. “The demographics of the state are changing, and great institutions that were there for generations past should also be there for generations of the future.”
For the first time ever, more than half of UC Irvine’s graduating class this year are first-generation college students.
UC Irvine, Gillman said, is not only admitting more Latino students but also helping them succeed. Eight of 10 freshmen who entered in 2010-11 graduated within six years, about equal to whites and blacks and just below Asians. Graduation rates for transfer students are even higher.
Success took time. The campus began laying the groundwork in 1983, when it created the Santa Ana Partnership with local schools, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton to improve college-going rates in the area. It intensified the efforts after state voters in 1996 passed Proposition 209 banning race-based affirmative action, said Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio, executive director of the Center for Educational Partnerships.
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