Amidst the gloomy budget forecasts for colleges this year, there has been some bright news for Columbia Basin College.
The Pasco school is on track to regain its federal designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution, which it lost last year after federal agencies changed their accounting methods.
That means it once again will be able to compete for federal money that in the past has paid for programs benefiting all students, not just those of Hispanic heritage.
The status is given to two-year and four-year colleges at which at least 25 percent of all students identify themselves as Hispanic on registration forms.
After dipping below that percentage last year, CBC now is confident its Hispanic enrollment will exceed 25 percent when official state numbers are released in December, said Martin Valadez, vice president of diversity and outreach.
The college's conservative estimate is that 25.3 percent of its students will count toward the designation, but the number calculated by state officials for CBC likely will be higher, Valadez said.
The designation makes the schools eligible for a number of grants, most importantly Title V grants from the federal Department of Education.
CBC has received more than $4 million from such federal grants since 2004, college records show.
Those grants paid for a lot of things enjoyed by all CBC students, said Andrew Crawmer, an administrator who supervised how they were spent. The federal money covered the expansion of the tutor center on campus, workshops for students who were struggling to keep their grades up, portable anatomy labs and document cameras for classrooms, for example, Crawmer said.
The grants filled in gaps left by dwindling state budgets in recent years, he said.
"This impacted the entire student body," Crawmer said. "This wasn't for one group over another."
The last of these grants expired Sept. 30, but CBC couldn't immediately apply to renew it because it lost the HSI status last year.
It did not, however, lose that status because fewer Hispanics attend the Pasco campus. A federal agency that tracks enrollment changed how it counts students toward the 25 percent threshold.
Instead of taking a head count of Hispanic students in classes, the Office of Post-Secondary Education started counting only students who were taking enough college-level classes to be considered full-time, a federal official told the Herald last year after CBC lost the designation.
"Our concern is that this was based on a university model," Valadez said this week. "It doesn't recognize the different function of community colleges."
CBC and other community colleges provide adult education and basic education, which don't count as post-secondary courses. They also provide remedial courses for students who didn't have the necessary support in high school to take advanced classes, for example, he said.
The low-income, first-generation students targeted by the federal grants often fit that description, he said.
CBC will regain its status despite the changed accounting method, because the college's overall Hispanic head count -- counting students at any class level -- has increased to more than 30 percent, Valadez said.
"We've been very proactive in outreach," he said.
In part, that has meant reaching out to parents, not just high school students. Many adults who grew up in other countries don't know what a community college is, as that type of institution is unique to the U.S.
Many Latin American countries only have universities, access to which is reserved for the rich or the extremely gifted, Valadez said.
CBC recently started a radio program called Creciendo Con CBC -- Growing with CBC -- on local station KZHR, Valadez said.
Part of the program's message is that "you don't have to be rich and you don't have to be a 4.0 student to come to CBC," Valadez said.