Earlier this year, higher education in the central mountain region earned an important designation only achieved by 10% of colleges in the U.S. — Colorado Mountain College is now a Hispanic Serving Institution.
CMC’s Latino student population doubled in six years and now exceeds 25% of the total student population. As a proud alumnus, I’m beaming at the rising numbers of Latinos pursuing higher education leading to passion-driven careers, community involvement and a sense of belonging.
CMC has also stepped up to meet the needs of its broader community through ESL courses, community education, GED certifications and technical training for local careers, including hospitality. This is in addition to offering more than 120 different academic programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees and certificates.
Fund Sueños is another bright spot in CMC’s commitment to community. It allows DREAMers and other students not eligible for traditional financial aid to borrow interest-free funding from CMC for tuition.
As the regional community college in the central mountains, we applaud CMC’s ongoing strategic partnership, but these efforts must include a plan for its leadership and governance to better reflect the communities being served.
A good indicator of whether a public institution is or is not genuinely committed to equity, diversity and inclusion is the makeup of its governing body and senior leadership. Of the school’s current seven-person board, not a single member is Latino. This is not intended as a slight to their service, but when Latinos don’t have a seat at the table, it poses a challenge for CMC’s board to make decisions on our behalf.
An HSI designation is not a checkbox, it’s a commitment to educate and represent the Latino student population.
At Voces Unidas, we challenge institutions to rethink representation. Equity, diversity and inclusion must be a top priority for CMC’s leadership, especially with the new HSI designation. The current election-based system for trustees contributes to the lack of diversity, unopposed candidates are elected and they appoint members from their inner circle to fill remaining positions.
The issue isn’t finding diverse, qualified candidates — it’s making sure they’re top of mind. This happens through purposeful engagement with the local Latino community and our growing alumni network.
We’re requesting a larger effort by CMC to pursue Latinos for leadership positions. When Latinos have a platform to advocate, represent and participate in the decision-making process, our education systems — and their outcomes — grow stronger. We’ve taken note of the efforts by CMC’s senior leadership team to boost top-level diversity and create a welcoming environment for Latino students. This is our starting point; but what’s the plan to achieve more equitable representation?
And if the current system does not yield equitable representation via an elected board, we should consider other governance models, like the possibility of adding appointed members to the board of trustees. Using political appointments to higher education governing boards already has been shown to yield more diversity in other institutions in Colorado. For example, I am one of two Latino Governor-appointed, Senate-confirmed trustees at Colorado Mesa University. CMC’s student population is rapidly changing and leadership has a choice — maintain the status quo or dust off the cobwebs and seek new inclusion tactics.
The HSI designation is an obvious shift in higher education inclusion for families who have resided in the valley for decades. To accurately represent the Latino population, we need CMC leadership to show us through purposeful action, policy and community engagement that they are listening and working toward diverse leadership.
CMC’s community role in higher education has helped Latinos across the central mountain region reach their full potential, let’s now push the envelope to reach equitable representation.
Alex Sánchez is the president and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund. This guest column was published locally on Dec. 15, 2021.