Federal education authorities designated Columbia Basin College as a Hispanic-serving institution this week, allowing school officials to apply for grants worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Pasco school lost the designation more than five years ago when federal regulations changed. The new designation is effective July 1.
College officials said they now will be able to apply for a variety of grants that could serve not just the Hispanic community, but all the college's students and the economy.
"It's really all about jobs and having educated people to fill those jobs," said CBC President Rich Cummins.
More than 27 percent of the college's 3,525 students are Hispanic, according to numbers provided by college officials. A school must have a Hispanic population of at least 25 percent to qualify for the designation.
Previously, the college could count all students of Hispanic ethnicity in determining its Hispanic population. Changes to the rules, however, meant the school only could count Hispanic students taking courses toward a college degree. That excluded students pursuing a GED, or taking English as a second language or remedial courses.
Grant writer Brett Riley said the last grant the college received in 2006 under the designation expired in September.
That five-year grant was worth $600,000 a year and went to several projects and needs, from pilot studies on student retention and success to paying for computers and technology.
One of the studies developed practices that led to a math tutoring center on campus.
"Those are things we normally wouldn't be able to accomplish without federal funding," Riley said.
Cummins said 16 percent of the nation's population identify themselves as Hispanic. The Latino population is expected to be one third of the nation's total population by the middle of the century. However, Hispanics are less likely to hold college degrees or pursue higher education, Cummins noted.
Martin Valadez, vice president for diversity at the college, said CBC has worked to let the Hispanic population know about the opportunities at the college, including using a Spanish-language radio talk show to share information.
Melissa O'Neil Perdue, spokeswoman for Washington State University Tri-Cities, said being designated a Hispanic-serving institution is also a goal of the Richland branch campus.
The school currently has a Hispanic population of about 18 percent, she said, but added that not all students identify their ethnicity.
In addition to the ability to apply for additional grant money, the designation opens up other opportunities for the university's students and demonstrates its commitment to education.
"We want to make sure our campus reflects the demographics of our community," she said.