GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia Gwinnett College can soon qualify for more grant money, thanks to its increasingly diverse student body.
The U.S. Department of Education has designated the college a Hispanic Serving Institution. Dalton State College is the only other public school in Georgia to have this distinction.
For schools to be recognized, they must be regionally accredited, have a high percentage of students that have financial need and, arguably most importantly, have Hispanic students make up at least a quarter of their student population.
Dr. Derek Stone, associate provost for academic programs, said the new status shows the college's commitment to its students.
"The importance of the designation, I think, is that it recognizes the efforts of the institution to create a diverse and inclusive learning environment where students feel welcome," he said. "They can come here and thrive and then they can succeed in achieving their educational goals."
The number of Hispanic students has steadily increased at GGC, according to a news release. GGC said its Hispanic enrollment was 26% as of fall 2021. The school believes that number likely increased again this fall.
HSI distinction is typically utilized at the faculty level but Stone said it can speak to students considering GGC too.
"I believe it gives the impression or gives the idea that we already have a diverse student population," he said. "I think that attracts students from a variety of backgrounds because now they will know that when they go to Georgia Gwinnett College, they'll be going to an institution where there are students of similar backgrounds, so that they will have things in common with students."
Stone said this can be seen in the classroom as students take courses with others like them and open opportunities to socialize on campus as a quarter of the student body shares a similar background.
Before the designation, GGC had built the infrastructure to help support Latinx and Hispanic students on campus.
Apart from its Organization for Latin American Students which helps bring together the Latino student body, GGC also has a living-learning community, Hispanic Achievers Committed to Excellent Results (HACER). The housing option helps support students working to graduate with residents sharing classes and celebrating the Hispanic and Latinx heritage and culture.
GGC also offers intermediate Spanish as an elective for students, study abroad opportunities to Latin America, a Latin American studies certificate, and a special family engagement program meant to assist with retention.
"It was a very intentional effort to have a diverse student body, to have it mirror our community," Stone said. "And then, it is kind of very nice that it turned out to be this Hispanic Serving Institution designation."
As GGC received the distinction this year, the college will be able to reap some of the benefits come 2023. As an HSI, the college has more grant funding opportunities that Stone said he thinks can benefit the entire student body.
"It provides the opportunity to seek funds to expand educational programs for students from diverse backgrounds," Stone said. "But really, those funds would benefit all students at GGC."