$3.4 million grant will help Elmhurst University support Hispanic students

Elmhurst College changes its name to Elmhurst University, effective July 1.

Elmhurst University officials are lauding a federal grant they said will supercharge the institution’s support of Hispanic and underserved students and establish a Center for Excellence and Achievement on campus.

The $3.4 million grant, named La Promesa Azul/The Blue Promise, comes on the heels of Elmhurst University being designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution last year by the U.S. Department of Education.

“While our commitments to fully embracing our designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution were cemented with or without receiving the grant, being awarded is a game changer, allowing us to move forward with greater intentionality and speed,” said Bruce King, Elmhurst University’s vice president for equity and inclusion.

For the past few years, more than one-quarter of Elmhurst University’s roughly 2,800 full-time undergraduate students have identified as Hispanic and Latino or Latina, meeting one of the primary qualifications to attain HSI status.

The designation enables the university, 190 S. Prospect Ave., to apply for federal Title V grants.

“A lot of our students are coming from the western suburban area where I think the numbers of Latinx families are increasing tenfold,” King said. “So our numbers reflect the changing populations of our community. We’re seeing increases in the same way communities like Lombard, Addison and Bellwood are seeing that kind of growth.”

The new Center for Excellence and Achievement/Centro para la Excelencia y el Logro is envisioned as a “one-stop shop” to assist students and their families, not only academically, but also with culturally responsive services that help remove barriers to pursuing an education, according to a news release.

King said more than 80% of Elmhurst University’s Latino students commute to campus for classes and co-curricular activities every day.

“So the center is going to give people a home for however long they’re on campus, to create a place where they can go to find cultural connections and support of their peers, vital resources and community,” he said. “Given the nature of how people utilize education at Elmhurst, what we’re lacking is this place to go – a center that meets all the different needs of our students in terms of cultural support, academic support, access to tutoring, information on internships. We’re not replacing those services on campus but creating an annex so we can provide a one-stop shop.”

Other grant goals include supplementing the first-year seminar program to ease students’ transition to college, hiring additional staff to engage with community-based organizations in the surrounding communities of DuPage County and other external resources, establishing an endowed fund to help students participate in internships, study away programs, research projects and service learning, and providing faculty development on culturally responsive pedagogy.

Elmhurst University President Troy VanAken said he is excited for the opportunities the grant will create.

“Not only for our Latino and Latina students, but for our entire campus community,” VanAken said. “Our students’ success is the ultimate testament to our mission as an institution.”

Officials hope to have the new center fully functioning within two years.

“We are a landlocked institution, so we have to be a little more creative in how we utilize and reimagine space that already exists and renovate it to create the vision for this important center,” King said.