UCF’s recent recognition as one of the top 100 schools for Hispanic students in the United States by HO Magazine comes just in time to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicks off at UCF today with the Latinx Heritage Month opening celebration.

“The ranking by HO Magazine (formerly The Hispanic Outlook in Education Magazine) is based on information compiled by the U.S. Department of Education and several of UCF’s rankings for Hispanics, including:

  • 1st in legal assistant/paralegal degrees
  • 9th in total enrollment for four-year schools
  • 9th in total degrees granted in media and journalism
  • 30th in the total graduate degrees granted

“It is exciting to work at an institution that serves such a large segment of our future Latino leaders,” says Cyndia Muñiz, director of HSI Culture and Partnerships in UCF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “Latinos are the youngest, fastest-growing population in the U.S. and represent a critical mass of talent that will increasingly contribute to the economic and overall well-being of this country. This is what drives our intentional efforts as a Hispanic Serving Institution.”

Serving Hispanic Students

Earlier this year, the Department of Education designated UCF as a Hispanic Serving Institution, which allows the university to compete for federal funding opportunities to benefit educational experiences of Hispanic and low-income students. To qualify for the designation, a school’s Hispanic enrollment must be at least 25 percent of undergraduate students. UCF reached that benchmark in 2016, and now has 28.3 percent Hispanic undergraduate enrollment—nearly 17,000 students.

UCF is sixth in the nation for awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanic students, with more than 4,000 students earning degrees in 2018-19. UCF joined about 500 universities and colleges that are designated as Hispanic Serving Institutions, representing about 15 percent of the U.S. higher education institutions.

“As a Hispanic Serving Institution, it is vital that we create a campus environment that nurtures belongingness and capitalizes on the ingenuity, expertise and many wonderful talents found within our immensely diverse UCF community,” says S. Kent Butler, a professor in counselor education and interim chief equity, inclusion and diversity officer.

As part of the designation, UCF aims 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.

The university has made big strides in the past decade in its commitment to not just admit more underrepresented students, but to see them succeed and graduate in large numbers. Just this week, UCF ranked 77th in the nation for the ethnic diversity of its student body, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best College Rankings.

One way UCF has done this specifically for Hispanic students is by offering in-state tuition waivers for students from Puerto Rico to ease the financial hardships after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.

As a result of coordinated efforts, the university’s Hispanic students outperform national averages, which results in greater social and economic mobility. For example, UCF has virtually closed the six-year graduation rate gap for Hispanic students (to less than 1 percent compared to their white peers — the national average is 11.8), while increasing the retention rate of first-time in college students.

Celebrating Latinx Heritage

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, festivities are planned for two campus celebrations in the coming days, including presentations, games, food demonstrations and other scheduled activities.

The Latinx Heritage Month opening celebration will be held on Memory Mall from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. today.

And on Monday, UCF will kick off Hispanic Serving Institutions Week with a campus celebration in the Live Oak Ballroom from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Together with purpose let’s joyously celebrate the Hispanic culture,” Butler says. “Today and everyday moving forward, let’s commit to supporting UCF’s goal in becoming Latin America’s destination of choice for co-innovation and development.”