By Daniel Perez-Crouse
Mt. Tabor’s Warner Pacific University (WPU) was recently selected by the US Department of Education to receive a five-year, $3 million grant under the Title V Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program (DHSI). In addition to improving services to students, the university says that the grant supports its efforts to turn around an enrollment decline post-pandemic and rebuild its connections to the community in general.
The “Christ-Centered” university, originating as Pacific Bible College in 1937, has transformed over the years—as recently as 2018 with its change from Warner Pacific College to its current title of Warner Pacific University. And this grant appears to be sparking a lot more desired growth from the university. It comes not long after they successfully overcame an accreditation warning issued several years prior.
The DHSI Program provides grants to assist educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students. These grants also enable Hispanic-serving institutions to expand and enhance their academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability.
WPU self-reports that 61 percent of its undergraduates identify as students of color and 32 percent identify as Hispanic. Senior Vice President for Advancement & Strategic Communications Jennifer Boehmer said the school attracts such a diverse population because, “We represent the only federally designated Hispanic-serving institution at the university level in Oregon, and are among only a handful of universities of faith with a formal minority-serving focus in the US. It means we are intentional about recruiting and hiring diverse leaders and how we care for our students as whole individuals who reflect the full Image of God. Student research affirms that the more potential students see themselves reflected in their classmates and in their teachers, the more they are compelled to believe they too can be successful.”
Being one of the few universities of faith with a formal minority-serving focus, they attract many Latino students, as does their championship soccer program. Additionally, Boehmer mentioned their academic programs are well suited to students who got their start in community colleges—which tend to serve more ethnically diverse populations.
However, in their press release, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Dr. Darilis Garcia said, “Though we enroll a large number of Hispanic students, and are recognized as the most diverse university in Oregon in general, enrollment is not enough.”
With funding from the grant, WPU has three main goals under the title of “Project Avaramos”: to strengthen academic programs, to improve student support and to support institutional infrastructure and outcomes.
Some of the strategies within these three goals include creating community-wide mentorship and coaching initiatives connecting Hispanic students with peers, faculty and community leaders that support students while they are in school, and a new physical space on campus with designated staff to welcome students and lead programming that supports professional development for students and staff.
The grant will also support a push to integrate career considerations and experiential learning into the WPU academic experience. “Outcomes will include new approaches to curriculum that embed career-thinking and application throughout a major, and developing a new Spanish translation certificate program that will help students graduate with a credential that makes them even more marketable,” stated the press release.
When asked about the specifics of those new approaches, Boehmer said they are still formulating them, but alluded to excitement in improving programs like nursing and said, “Our nursing program is already comprised of 70 percent students of color…just think of what it could mean to our community’s healthcare clinics if they could hire more qualified nurses who have the personal background and professional training to assist an increasingly diverse patient base.”
Boehmer said that due to being a smaller private institution, they have a close-knit community that consistently hears from students about what they want out of their education. “One of the throughlines we hear from students is the desire to polish and professionalize their lived experience through a college education.” This means, as opposed to downplaying their heritage language to better assimilate into the dominant culture, students want to leverage and build off their skills and respective cultural backgrounds regardless of their major. She says things like this helped mold the vision around this grant.
More about WPU and their grant at warnerpacific.edu.
Photo credit: Warner Pacific University