Cabrillo College question: How to better serve its Hispanic students?

Monday's virtual meeting of the Cabrillo College campus community and the board of trustees.
(Lookout Santa Cruz)

Cabrillo College administrators, staff and faculty finalized a report focusing on recommendations for the college to better serve its Hispanic students — who make up almost 50% of the school’s student population. President Matt Wetstein told Lookout about some of the highlights.

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Cabrillo College first won designation in 2006 as an Hispanic Serving Institution, a federal identifier that makes colleges eligible for related federal grant programs. Since then, Cabrillo’s Hispanic-identified student population has increased by more than 20%. Last fall, 47% of its students identified as Hispanic, meaning they come from a Spanish-speaking background. To qualify for the designation, higher education institutions must have an enrollment of at least 25% Hispanic students. UC Santa Cruz won the same designation in 2014.

Now, Cabrillo is revisiting the question of how it can better serve its Hispanic students and the greater Hispanic community around them. And it brings to the fore — for a fall decision — the knotty ongoing question of whether to rename Cabrillo, given the conquistador roots of its namesake.

On Monday evening, a task force that included President Matt Wetstein and more than 70 staff and faculty released its recommendations on how to do that. As the Cabrillo board of trustees heard and discussed the report, Wetstein announced the investment of $400,000 in the next academic year to increase outreach and inclusion efforts.

The funding will go toward hiring a position focused on Spanish-language marketing and outreach in addition to increasing the marketing budget, providing travel money for conferences, and funding public art on campus, community events and speakers.

The work and funding come as recent studies show that the pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on underrepresented groups, including Latino and Hispanic communities. From 2019 to 2021, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment fell 7%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

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At Cabrillo, the percentage of Hispanic students remained at roughly 42% in that time period, according to online database Datamart. But like many groups at the college, and across the country, the overall number of Hispanic students dropped at Cabrillo, from 7,295 to 6,527.

The task force began meeting a year ago after a group of faculty and the Chicano/Latino Affairs Council — which is made up of faculty, staff and students — made clear they wanted to improve the college’s work with Hispanic students.

Wetstein appointed a task force, which started meeting monthly, looking at other institutions; it has also examined best practices, including those laid out in Gina Garcia’s book “Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges and Universities.”

In its report, the task force focused on recommendations for six different themes of work: policy and advocacy, curriculum and professional development, accountability framework/creation of an equity auditing system, external community outreach, internal community spaces, and student support services.

Among its recommendations:

  • Develop plan to create an ethnic studies department;
  • Create procedures for auditing the college’s progress on HSI-enhancing initiatives;
  • Seek funding for the renovation and expansion of the science lab at the Watsonville Center;
  • On an annual basis, provide free Cabrillo tuition to 50 employees to complete ethnic studies classes;
  • Support creation of Latinx-centered mural/public art projects (indoor and outdoor) at both the Watsonville and Aptos campuses.

One other recommendation directly addresses the simmering issue of Cabrillo College’s name. First raised almost two years ago, the issue prompted a series of community forums and surveys. Now, the name exploration process winds toward a conclusion. The task force recommended the board of trustees reach a final decision on it by the end of the fall semester.

At this point, the name exploration subcommittee is scheduled to finalize its report in October and present it at the Nov. 14 board of trustees meeting.

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