Dominican University Earns Designation to Support Diversity

Dominican University of California in San Rafael has earned a federal designation that will help the college recruit and support non-White students.

The U.S. Department of Education recognized Dominican as a “minority serving institution,” a classification that opens the door to federal grants and work-study programs. More than 25% of undergraduates identify as Latino students, and another 25% identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander.

Dominican is among 157 California colleges and universities that have qualified for the designation, according to the federal Office of Minority Health. Nationally, 325 institutions have qualified.

“Symbolically, this designation makes it more visible that we have been enrolling, serving and graduating predominantly people of color,” said Nicola Pitchford, the Dominican president. “It signals that we’re a diverse institution and that we have been very intentionally increasing our commitment to not just diversity, but facing challenges of equity.”

One example of this, Pitchford said, is Dominican’s recent partnerships with two Marin nonprofits, Canal Alliance and Performing Stars of Marin. The partnerships allow Dominican students to get a boots-on-the-ground understanding of what is impacting marginalized communities, while advancing workplace skills and learning to research and produce data for advocacy.

With Canal Alliance, students are supporting a project to improve street lighting in the Canal neighborhood. With Performing Stars of Marin, students are helping to develop an exhibition on the history of Marin City in celebration of its 80th anniversary.

Undergraduate students of all majors also participate in a program called the Dominican Experience to work with a coach, complete a signature work, build a digital portfolio and engage with the community, Pitchford said. The program is designed to provide equitable access to community service learning experiences.

Since fall 2011, the percentage of non-White undergraduates, particularly Asian American students and Latino students, has increased by nearly 30%, according to the university. The four-year graduation rate is 72% and six-year rate is 74%, well above the national averages of 41% and 60%.

The enrollment for 2021-22 is 1,849. Each year the university graduates about 300 undergraduate and 200 graduate students.

The designation means the university can waive the institutional share of federal funding for programs such as Federal Supplemental Equal Opportunity Grants and federal work-study funds. Without the designation, the school must match 25% of federal funds.

The school also qualifies now for a variety of grants, including the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, which historically awards around $3 million per award over a five-year period, Pitchford said.

The designation could attract more students like Leydi Lopez, who is of El Salvadoran descent, and the first generation of her family to attend college. She is pursuing a major in global public health and a minor in Spanish and community action and social change.

As part of her senior capstone project, Lopez said she is working with Canal area health hubs to survey residents on community concerns.

“Dominican is really involved in the community,” Lopez said. “I’m sure this designation will draw in more students to have even more of an impact here in our own community.”

Biology professor Roland Cooper said the designation allows faculty members and students to pursue grants, scholarships and internships through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Cooper has an ongoing research project with Dominican students in Africa studying the effects of drugs on the malaria parasite.

“It’s essentially providing training grants, stipends and salaries for students,” he said. “The university isn’t eligible for these specific opportunities without this designation. That’s really the game changer here.”