A recent name change isn’t the only transformation underway at Pikes Peak State College (PPSC).

After years of planning, the college is eyeing a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation from the U.S. Department of Education. The status would make PPSC eligible for additional federal funding and resources to support its Hispanic and Latiné students, who currently make up about 23% of PPSC’s student body. To apply, that percentage must tick up two points to 25%.

But the college has set a broader goal than reaching a specific threshold, says Roberto Garcia, PPSC vice president of student services. Becoming an HSI means giving back to families who have shaped the history, culture, and economic strength of the region.

“Our Latiné community has been an engine for prosperity and progress in our region, and they have high expectations for themselves for their children,” said Garcia. “We’re positioned for and committed to advancing the educational and career interests of the community.”

Building Relationships

With the demographic shifts happening in Colorado and across the country, it’s more important than ever to engage this population, Garcia said. Hispanic and Latiné students earn 25% of all associate degrees nationally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and will become an increasingly larger share of the future workforce.

A display table with a colorful striped tablecloth, a display board of staff portraits, and sweet treats.

Pikes Peak State College has revamped its Latino Alliance, an affinity group open to staff, faculty, instructors, and students.

“The Latiné community is growing, and their demand for career paths and programs for social and economic mobility is growing more and more,” he said.

Across CCCS, Hispanic and Latiné students represent about a quarter of the student body. If awarded, PPSC would join six other HSIs within the Colorado Community College System: Community College of Aurora (CCA), Community College of Denver, Lamar Community College, Otero College, Pueblo Community College, and Trinidad State College. Front Range Community College is also an emerging HSI.

Garcia says the college is focused on the long game. For years, PPSC has worked closely with neighboring high schools to boost participation in Concurrent Enrollment among Hispanic and Latiné students. The college also collaborates with organizations like Peak Education to reach first-generation, low-income students—creating a pipeline of prospective learners.

“These partnerships are really important, because we’re building relationships with these students before they even step on campus,” he explained.

Fostering Community

To ensure Latiné students enroll, the college is also fine-tuning its recruiting practices. The college recently rolled out a Spanish-language section of its website and hired Janae Knipp, PPSC’s first bilingual recruitment and admissions specialist.

Knipp serves as the point of contact for any Spanish-speaking prospective student, whether they’re a bilingual high school student or an adult learner looking to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. She meets with about three visitors each day and fields plenty of questions through WhatsApp, a messaging service.

Pikes Peak State College staff host their first “Noches con Pikes Peak” event geared toward Latiné and Hispanic families.

“We want families to feel comfortable, because there can be a lot of hesitancy,” Knipp explained. “’Can I afford this? Is this going to be worthwhile?’ We see a lot of barriers that we see with any other student population, but they can be more common among the Latino population.”

One challenge is making Latiné and Hispanic students feel welcome, Knipp said. Because they’re disproportionately first-generation, they often need additional support and reassurance upfront. That led Knipp to redesign the college’s bilingual welcome events modeled after a successful series at CCA. The new program, branded “Noches con Pikes Peak,” will entice families with snacks, scholarship raffles, and other festive activities.

While food is always a good motivator, Knipp joked, she hopes the events foster a stronger sense of community.

“I really want to make sure that whether I’m meeting with a student one-on-one, or if they’re coming to an event, they really feel like they get their questions answered and that their specific situation is heard,” Knipp said. “Because then they’re going to share that experience with friends and family.”

Keeping Up Momentum

We are on the right track, and we need to keep up this momentum
Janae Knipp, Pikes Peak State College Bilingual Recruitment and Admissions Specialist

While increasing enrollment is a big piece to the puzzle, the college ultimately wants to see Latiné and Hispanic students thrive in their programs and graduate, said Garcia, who oversees student success and retention efforts. In recent years, the college has hired several bilingual staff members, like Garcia and Knipp, to improve language access and inclusion across campus.

Financial aid is another area of focus. Many students come from mixed-status households or don’t qualify for state and federal financial aid. So, the college created a new program to support undocumented learners, Knipp said.

“We had one student who received that scholarship for about a year, and then she got her green card. Now she qualifies for federal financial aid, and she is finishing up ESL and deciding what degree she wants to pursue,” Knipp said.

While both Garcia and Knipp acknowledge the long road ahead, they are excited about PPSC’s future.

“It’s really exciting to see other staff members from various departments coming together around a common goal,” Knipp said. “We are on the right track, and we need to keep up this momentum.”