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Westmont: An Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution

Westmont has become an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution with more than 23% of students identifying as Latino or Hispanic. The designation is a result of local partnerships, improved outreach efforts and the addition of several key college employees. 

PEAC Students at Kerrwood Hall

Back row, left to right, Andres Arroyo, Ezra Fluharty, Adrian Leon. Front row, left to right, Rebeca Perez Sanchez, Adasa Pineda Rosales, Dacia Romero Acosta,  Mia Ruvalcaba Rubio, Natty Valdovinos

“Westmont is nearing the 25% undergraduate enrollment threshold it needs to be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which allows us to apply for a federal Title V grant,” says Araceli Espinoza, assistant director of admissions.

Westmont works with local non-profits and school districts to recruit underrepresented, first-generation students. These partners include Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Program for Effective Access to College (PEAC), Mission Scholars, and REACH (Resilience, Education, Adventure, Community and Health).

Araceli Espinoza
Araceli Espinoza, assistant director of admissions

“Our local partnerships have increased our enrollment of Santa Barbara students from 24 to 51 this year with 27 of the 51 students identifying as Hispanic/Latino,” Espinoza says.


PEAC has scheduled campus visits for students interested in the Westmont Downtown | Grotenhuis Nursing program.  “Over the summer, we welcomed PEAC students for an overview of the scholarships available to them for the fast-track pipeline from Westmont to a career in the nursing field,” Espinoza says. “We are confident students entering the nursing program will most likely stay in Santa Barbara because so many of them want to give back to their community.”

The Bower Foundation approved a $500,000 grant in 2021 toward the creation of the PEAC Nursing Fellowship. Jacqueline Hernandez, a Santa Barbara resident and Cal State Channel Islands graduate, is the first Santa Barbara Unified product to take advantage of the nursing fellowship.

PEAC Students at Presidents Patio

In November, more than 200 people are expected to attend the second annual “Affording Your Dream College,” which helps develop financial literacy for local students and parents. “We’ll introduce speakers from Montecito Bank and Trust and Bower Foundation to inspire students and parents while guiding them to any college or university they wish to attend,” Espinoza says.   

Once the students are enrolled at Westmont, a mentor program of faculty and staff eases the transition and helps students find community at Westmont. “I've learned student success is rooted in a sense of community and establishing relationships with people they identify with,” says Brenda Tirado, transfer, multicultural and international admissions counselor. “We have a strong path forward to ensure we have a strategic plan in place to eventually be considered a Hispanic Serving Institution.”

Irene Neller, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications, has created Westmont’s first Hispanic Advisory Board and is recruiting local community leaders and alumni to help shape the future of Westmont as an HSI institution. Her vision to grow this effort at Westmont was spurred by her own experience of being only one of a handful of Hispanic students entering college in the mid 80s. “I just knew that encouraging and reaching students and families with the message that their dreams for college can come true was so needed in our Santa Barbara community. This is a collective effort across many partnerships with Westmont and soon we will celebrate being recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution.”

Westmont has launched its own chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha, a national honor society for first-generation students. Tri-Alpha inductees are required to complete 30 credit hours and a have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, and neither their parents, step-parents nor guardians completed a bachelor's degree.