In a time when higher education has become more vital to the financial security and success of an individual and their communities, it is necessary for those working in educational systems to remove barriers for their students. In September, the Ventura County community colleges, among colleges and universities all around the United States, bring a highlighted focus to this equity work during Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Week.
To be recognized federally as an HSI, a college must enroll at least 25% Latinx undergraduate students. In the 2020 census, 44.5% of Ventura County citizens identified as Hispanic or Latinx, and in the last five years, more than 50% of the students attending a Ventura County community college identified as Hispanic or Latinx. As Moorpark, Oxnard, and Ventura colleges' student bodies are representative of Ventura County's diverse community, each is a proud HSI. For the colleges, being HSIs is more than a designation—it is an example of the colleges’ missions and values in action.
Since its founding in 1967, Moorpark College has been adapting to best serve its changing population, applying for the HSI designation in 2016. Recently, the percentage of Latinx students has increased to 41%, becoming the largest demographic for the first time in the 2022–2023 academic year. Moorpark won its first HSI grant in 2020, a $3 million award to increase the participation of the college’s Latinx and low-income students in the sciences. This grant now funds the STEM Impacto program, which has helped students complete their courses with higher grades through peer mentorship, tutoring, and paid internships, among other benefits.
While an HSI designation is defined by enrollments, their true impact is measured by the ways the college meets their students’ needs. To serve Latinx students and other students of minoritized identities, colleges both seek to enhance the student’s experience through culturally competent resources and improve outcomes that meet students’ objectives. Community colleges are uniquely situated to meet these goals.
Oxnard College provides a holistic approach to supporting student learners at multiple stages of their educational journeys. One HSI grant-funded program, Proyecto Puentes, starts its support for students by placing a college counselor in local high schools and provides information, support services, and skills development through their years at Oxnard College. At each step, the program implements a transformative, culturally affirming, and empowering environment that integrates support systems and positive developmental relationships. By integrating these services, Proyecto Puentes enhances college access, retention, and transfer for many within the community.
Through the ongoing development of these programs and services, HSIs develop a deeper connection to the students they serve. This becomes a core feature of the HSI’s mission and forms a sense of belonging among students, staff, faculty, and administrators.
Ventura College creates this connected identity through programs such as Project Servingness: Aspiration, Identity, and Learning (S:AIL) in STEM, which demonstrates a commitment to racial equity, inclusion, professional growth, and support of historically marginalized students in STEM. The efforts are collaborative and campuswide, providing students with necessary resources and creating professional development opportunities for staff and faculty members. To those on campus, these efforts are widely seen as events, such as those held for HSI Week, connect students, staff, and faculty to the ongoing goals of empowering students and creating affirming space to honor the bi-cultural and bilingual assets that Latinx students and employees bring to campus every day.
HSI Week is an opportunity each year to highlight what happens every day on Moorpark, Oxnard, and Ventura colleges’ campuses. STEM Impacto, Proyecto Puentes, S:AIL, and many other programs are just the start of the work for equitable education in Ventura County. As the Ventura County community colleges celebrate being HSIs, they celebrate the transformative power of education for the community.
This op-ed was written in collaboration among the HSI Grant Directors of the Ventura County Community College District. The Ventura County Community College District is a member of the 116-campus California Community College system and serves approximately 30,000 students annually. The District's three colleges—Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura—offer programs in general education for degrees and certificates, transfer to four-year colleges and universities, career technical education and provide opportunities to engage in co-curricular campus activities. For more information, visit vcccd.edu.