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'We can hire more' | How is Sacramento State improving Hispanic representation in faculty?

"We hired 63 new faculty members and 53 percent of them were people of color and 10 of them were Hispanic," said Sac State President Robert Nelsen.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Colleges and universities across the U.S. are ramping up efforts to recruit more diverse faculty members and bridge the diversity gap.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) from the U.S. Department of Education, white people make up the majority of faculty in higher education nationwide.

There were more than 1 million faculty members, part-time and full-time, at colleges and universities in fall 2020. That includes professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, assisting professors, adjunct professors and interim professors.

The latest government statistics show white people made up nearly three-quarters of full-time faculty, with 39% males and 35% females, totaling 563,609. Hispanic faculty were one of the most underrepresented groups, with only 3% males and females (each) totaling 44,340.

Dr. Alma Flores is an assistant professor in undergraduate studies in the Education Department at California State University, Sacramento. She primarily teaches race and ethnicity courses. She says she's working hard to ensure students' success.

"What I love the most about my job is definitely working with students," said Flores. "I'm not only teaching courses about issues of education inequities and education injustice, but I'm also trying really hard to change things."

Flores was born in Jalisco, Mexico. She immigrated to the U.S. at 8-years-old. Flores was raised in Santa Barbara, California. She later discovered a passion for education and social justice.

As a former first-generation college student, Flores earned her B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Education Studies at UCLA, her M.A. in Bilingual and Bicultural Studies at the University of Texas, Austin; and her Ph.D. in Race and Ethnic Studies in Education at UCLA.

Flores credits Latino mentors for her success in education. She began teaching at Sacramento State in fall 2018. Once hired at Sac State, Flores says she struggled to find mentorship and representation in university faculty.

"It's really important, for me at least, to acknowledge all those people that really took the time to mentor me," said Flores. "When I started at Sac State, I felt like the mentorship was not there. There were very few faculty of color that were hired."

Sac State had 1,772 faculty members in fall 2018 -- 1,155 were white and 128 were Latino. The majority of students, 10,037, were Latino. 

In fall 2021, Sac State had 1,098 white faculty compared to 152 Latino faculty. At that time, the university enrolled 11,327 Latino students.

"The disproportionate amount of Latino faculty to students is a big thing that concerns me because I didn't have a Latino professor or teacher until I got to college," said Flores. 

Statistics from the NCES show there were more than 15 million undergraduate students enrolled in colleges and universities nationwide in fall 2020 -- the first year in which fall enrollment may have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Out of the 15.9 million undergraduate students, about 8 million were white and 3 million were Hispanic.

Tattenai Villalba, who identifies as Mexican American, is studying at Sac State to become a school psychologist. Sac State was her first college choice due to the student diversity on campus. When it comes to faculty members, she says the university can improve Hispanic representation in education.

"We can do more and we can hire more," Villalba said. "Being able to see professors, like Professor Flores, who's passionate, it makes me want to be passionate about what I'm going into and it makes me feel more reassured that I have a chance. We can benefit more from having an Hispanic educator. The more we have, the more we can grow as a school."

Sac State's mission is to "transform lives by preparing students for leadership, service, and success."

Dr. Robert Nelsen became the university's eighth president on July 1, 2015. He was the first in his family to attend college and earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago's John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought. 

Nelsen says he wants students to become lifelong learners and critical thinkers, and have an inclusive, safe and healthy experience on campus. The university dedicated two people to help in the hiring search to ensure diversity and inclusion this year.

"We're working hard to make sure our faculty looks like our students," said Nelsen. "We're very proud that this year, we hired 63 new faculty members and 53% of them were people of color and 10 of them were Hispanic."

Sac State is recognized as an Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), meaning the university can compete for federal funding to expand and enhance educational opportunities for students, including those of Hispanic descent.

The U.S. Department of Education defines an HSI as "an institution of higher education that is an eligible institution; and has an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25 percent Hispanic students at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application."

About 4 million students were enrolled in an HSI in fall 2020, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Education. That includes more than 2 million Hispanic students at 451 HSIs in 24 states and Puerto Rico. 

The U.S. Department of Education designated Sac State an HSI in February 2015. Since then, the university has received more than $16 million in federal funds. The university says the funds are used for the projects and programs to help enhance educational opportunities for students. That includes: 

  • 2015: $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education to support project INSPIRE, focused on increasing student graduation rates.
  • 2017: $2.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education to support project Comprometid@s to increase the number of culturally and linguistically competent teachers.
  • 2018: $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build institutional capacity for improving undergraduate STEM teaching and learning.
  • 2019: $1.8 million from NSF to launch a Peer-Assisted Learning program in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and create a leadership academy uniting science and engineering faculty and students.
  • 2021: $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education to support "Degree with a Purpose: Integration of Career Development and Financial Wellness into the College Experience" and $5 million for an HSI STEM grant, "STEM4Equity," to increase numbers of students in STEM.

"It's not just good to be an HSI," Nelsen said. "We are here to serve our students, whether it's making sure they have the peer-assisted learning experiences or faculty members who look like them and can speak like them. We are dedicated to our 37% of students who are Latinx. We are proud of them and we want to make sure that they feel like they belong."

The California State University (CSU) is the largest system of senior higher education in the country with 23 campuses, 474,600 undergraduate and graduate students, and 49,000 faculty and staff. 21 CSUs are recognized as an HSI - including Sac State.

While Villalba counts on Flores for representation in classrooms, Flores says she's leaning on a small group of faculty on campus.

"I am very grateful for the Chicana and Latina faculty that I can count on, that have helped me build community. But, I want to reiterate the importance of mentorship and taking care of students who often do not see themselves in spaces, like higher education," said Flores.

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