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How being an HSI can benefit current and future UA students

Since the beginning of the University of Arizona’s time as a designated Hispanic Serving Institution in 2018, Marla Franco has worked to improve the way the UA serves its Hispanic and Latinx students.

Franco serves as the assistant vice provost for HSI Initiatives, and she has helped to ensure that every resource from being an HSI is being utilized to its fullest extent for students at the UA.

Hispanic Serving Institution is a federal designation that is granted by the Department of Education for schools who meet the one main requirement, which is having a Hispanic/Latinx undergraduate enrollment metric of 25%. 

“What it means to have that designation is to make sure the University of Arizona is an accessible place for students of color and other underrepresented backgrounds,” Franco said. “We want students to feel like [the] UA is accessible and that they are welcome. We want them to have an engagement with the university long before they become students.” 

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“It is up to the institution to make [HSI] what they want it to be,” Franco said. “Most people think that it automatically comes with financial resources to the institution and that is not the case.” 

However, there are benefits to this designation for students. Franco wanted to ensure people that while HSI is not something students can join; they can still find meaning in it.

“I want students to have the experience of seeing people who look like them,” Franco said. “I also want our students to be able to have courses and learning experiences where they see their cultures and histories … and be prepared for life after graduation.” 

There are many opportunities that are provided to students at universities that are HSIs, such as scholarships and job opportunities. Priscilla Ayala is the associate director of HSI Initiatives and is responsible for managing the relationship between the UA and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the national non-profit organization that represents HSIs. 

“I would say because of our federal designation, there has been strong student support and programs that are offered through HACU,” Ayala said. “These are opportunities that students can compete for that are only available for students at an HSI.”

One of those opportunities available to students is scholarships. HACU has scholarships that are exclusively offered to students a part of an HSI university. Another benefit offered is paid internships, which are offered in the spring, summer and fall. HACU partners closely with the UA to ensure no student misses out. 

“There are scholarships and the HACU national internship program, which is a paid internship that is all year round. [The internship program] has sessions in spring, fall and summer. Students can apply and be matched with a corporate or federal agency,” Ayala said. “HACU also has an annual conference student track called ‘¡Adelante!’ that addresses leadership and career opportunities for current college students. There will also be a summit for STEM students in September.” 

Since Arizona is such a new HSI member, Ayala encouraged students to learn more about the benefits of Arizona being an HSI school.

“It is an identity that we want folks to take pride in,” Ayala said. “We want students to be proud that they go to an HSI university.”

With over 500 universities in the United States designated as HSI’s, Franco said she believes that Arizona had the edge over other HSI schools. 

“As we became an HSI, we were not going to adhere to a prefabricated plan of what the work should look like,” Franco said. “We really envisioned what that could look like, and we went out and started to implement some of those efforts. There are many HSIs who partner or look to us for guidance and advice. They are interested in learning more about some of our efforts and initiatives because they too would like to adopt some of our practices for their HSI.”

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Franco recommended that new students do their own research about the UA’s HSI program and use that information to make their decision about whether to attend the university or not. 

“I believe first-time freshmen and transfer students will find a school that really is trying to innovatively bring together aspects of its institutional identities as a research-intensive university of large four-year public institution and an HSI,” Franco said.

For more information on the UA’s HSI status and opportunities available, go to

If you are interested in finding out more about HACU and what they offer to students, go to

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