MERCED — More money could be available to fund the University of California at Merced because the U.S. Department of Education announced this week that the school has been designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
With this new title comes the ability to qualify for grants for student support services, faculty development, scientific and laboratory equipment and the renovation of instructional facil- ities.
To qualify, 25 percent of a school's full-time student population must be Latino. Also, a majority of the student body or the surrounding population must be classified as low-income.
Thirty-two percent of UC Merced's undergraduate student population is Latino, said UC Merced officials.
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Statewide, there are 77 colleges classified with the La- tino designation, of which Merced College is one. Mer- ced and UC Riverside are the only two University of California schools with this title.
Nationally, 272 schools are designated as Hispanic-serving institutions, or HSIs.
Grants average $500,000
The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for parcelling out the Title V grant, the largest grant available to Hispanic-serving schools through the U.S. Department of Education, said Erica Romero, executive director of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
"It's a pretty competitive grant — $123 million is available for all HSIs nationwide," she said.
The average grant is in the $500,000 range and it's distributed over five years," she said.
Title V grants are used to strengthen the institutions, so all students — not just Latinos — benefit from the funding, she said.
For example, UC Riverside received a grant to help improve its science, technology, engineering and math programs, Romero added.
These schools are also eligible for grants from other organizations such as the departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development, UC Merced officials said.
That funding could support research efforts and increases financial aid available to students.
President Barack Obama's 2011-12 budget calls for $123 million for Hispanic-serving schools.
UC Merced is confident it has a strong chance of getting funding for research, because it's a much narrower pool for Hispanic-serving institutions that are research institutions, said Patti Istas, a spokesperson for UC Merced.
This research money would bolster the funding for the future UC Merced Medical School, she added.
Applying for HSI status was a top priority of UC Merced founding Chan- cellor Carol Tomlinson- Keasey, Istas said.
The school submitted its HSI application to the U.S. Department of Education in 2006. At that time, the school's Latino population was just shy of 25 percent.
The U.S. Department of Education designated the school as an HSI on April 26.
UC Merced's current Chancellor Steve Kang expressed excitement over the new title.
"As the first American public research university of the 21st century, we are tremendously proud to have a student body that reflects the diversity of California," Kang said.
"Our talented students, who hail from the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates throughout the state, are invigorated by and benefit from the diversity of fellow students — be it geographic, ethnic, economic, cultural or other characteristic."