Boricua College: The Little Engine That Could – Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

The Manhattan CampusAt the corner of 156th street and Broadway in New York City, sits one of the city’s best kept secrets: Boricua College.

The college is the brainchild of Puerto Rican activists and scholars, including Dr. Antonia Pantoja, the first Latina woman to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom, whose pursuit of equity in education helped to create bilingual education and English as a Second Language programming that Latinx K-12 students use in the city today. Boricua College is the first private, non-profit institution on the U.S. mainland to be built with the express purpose of serving the Puerto Rican population in New York City.

Since 1992, the federal government formally recognizes institutions that serve over 25% Latinx students as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). The Latinx population is the fastest growing population in the U.S. According to data from Excelencia in Education!, an organization that promotes the success of Latinx students in higher education, there are 569 institutions that identify as an HSI as of 2020, representing 18% of all colleges and universities.

But simply because a college meets the population requirements to be an HSI doesn’t guarantee that institution is making adjustments to serve its Latinx students, said Excelencia’s CEO and president, Dr. Deborah Santiago. Boricua College, however, has embedded that service into its very mission.

Santiago said that an organization like Boricua College can be so focused on serving its direct community that it doesn’t focus as much on marketing, which can lead to bigger concerns related to sustainability. According to Rosalia Cruz, director of financial aid at Boricua College, enrollment has been down since the pandemic. Fall 2021’s numbers did not improve, Cruz said, because the vaccination requirement may have served as a deterrent to some students returning. The majority of recruitment comes from word of mouth, direct one-to-one connection within the city’s boroughs, which is partially why so many walk past the college without knowing how much heavy lifting Boricua does for the Latinx community in New York.

For almost fifty years, Boricua College has built a holistic system of support for roughly 1,200 full-time students as they achieve associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in human services, business, and education. Graduates of Boricua have gone on to become leaders within their communities, opening their own day care centers, becoming elementary teachers, and honing their activism skills.

Despite enrollment hiccups, Boricua College prioritizes funding for its students, most of whom are adult learners. Every student who starts at Boricua College receives a laptop and a printer. The first-year retention rate for students is 82%. The college was able to use just under $4 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security Act (CARES) funds and Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) from the federal government to pay off lingering student debt. Just under half of these students identify as Puerto Rican, while 40% identify as Latinx from different backgrounds. Roughly 14% of Boricua students identify as Black, and 6% identify as white, Asian-American Pacific Islander, or Indigenous. </…….


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