The U.S. Department of Education this week officially designated the University of Central Florida as a Hispanic Serving Institution, paving the way for the university to compete for federal funding opportunities to improve the educational experience of Hispanic and low-income students.

To become a qualifying institution, Hispanic enrollment must be at least 25 percent of full-time-equivalent undergraduate students. UCF reached that percentage in Fall 2016, which led to the new designation. The department on Tuesday confirmed the eligibility of the university, which now has 27.5 percent Hispanic undergraduate enrollment, more than 16,000 students.

The new designation “offers great possibility in strengthening institutional capacity and expanding educational opportunities for Latino and low-income students,” says Cyndia Muñiz, UCF’s assistant director of Hispanic initiatives, who will serve as lead in submitting for the grants with support from the UCF Office of Research. Muñiz has a doctorate in education, with an emphasis in higher education.

‘These opportunities that are now available to us not only strengthen our students’ academic experiences, but also strengthen a notable segment of the leaders and workforce in our local community.’

“It is also important to note that many of our UCF alumni stay in Central Florida. These opportunities that are now available to us not only strengthen our students’ academic experiences, but also strengthen a notable segment of the leaders and workforce in our local community. Investing in Latino students is investing in Central Florida.”

President Dale Whittaker says that UCF, which is sixth in the nation for awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanic students, now joins more than 490 universities and colleges that are designated as Hispanic Serving Institutions. That is about 15 percent of the U.S. higher education institutions.

“This designation is a recognition of who we are,” Whittaker says. “To UCF, being Hispanic-serving is about more than enrollment—it’s about outcomes. We are proud of our growing diversity and even more proud of the impact it has on our university and Central Florida community.”

Muñiz and the Office of Research will hold two information sessions for the university community to propose projects for consideration. The information sessions will be 10-11:30 a.m. Feb. 6-7 at the Barbara Ying Center, Room 140.

She foresees some of the funding opportunities being used to help support the recruitment and retention of Hispanic faculty, the expansion of research and partnership opportunities in Latin America, and the promotion of graduate education. She said the focus of the final grant submissions will be aligned with UCF’s goal of attaining the state’s designation as a Preeminent Research University and the Seal of Excelencia, a national framework that recognizes institutions that serve Latino students well.

Those who would like to be considered as part of the submission team for upcoming HSI grant programs should email HSI@ucf.edu. For more information regarding UCF’s Hispanic Serving Institution efforts, go to the HSI website.

“UCF embraced its HSI identity prior to being designated an eligible institution by the Department of Education. For us, this designation goes far beyond a percentage point–It is who we are,” Muñiz says. “We are excited about competing for these funds to enhance the great work that is already being done at UCF, but we are more excited about the large breadth of diversity in our student body that makes every UCF Knight better.”