Country's First Four-Year Latino-Focused Certified University To Close Its Doors

The board of directors of the National Hispanic University in San Jose, Calif., announced on Thursday that the school will close as a four-year college at the end of the 2014-15 academic year.

A statement posted on the NHU website on Thursday declared: “After a deliberative review process, the Board has determined that because the university continues to face significant ongoing regulatory and financial challenges, the institution cannot operate as it has in the past.”

It was founded as a two-classroom college in 1981 in Oakland, Calif., by B. Roberto Cruz, a Stanford education professor who was appalled at the low number of Hispanics who enrolled in California universities.

Cruz used as inspiration historically black colleges like Spelman in Atlanta and Howard in Washington, D.C., which trained generations of African-American civic leaders. But it wasn’t until June 2002 that NHU gained accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) — the first and only Latino four-year higher education institution to achieve such status.

Three months later, Cruz died of cancer. "His dedication to providing a high level of educational opportunities for all, especially ethnic minorities and disadvantaged students,” California assemblyman Manny Diaz said at the time of his death, “is evident in the legacy he has left behind."

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The school moved to San Jose in 1994, expanding into larger and larger quarters, but it often had difficulty raising operating funds, and in 2010, NHU was sold for an undisclosed amount to Laureate Education, a Baltimore-based, for-profit company that operates 75 online and brick-and-mortar colleges around the world.

“We made critical and important efforts to expand and make the ‘national’ in National Hispanic University real,” Jonathan Kaplan, chairman of the NHU board and a top executive in Laureate told the San Jose Mercury News Wednesday. He noted that Laureate had invested “tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure, faculty and student support.”

NHU suffered a major financial setback last spring when the U.S. Department of Education, citing that the liberal arts program did not offer a good prospect for employment, withdrew financial aid to students enrolled in that course at NHU.

About one-quarter of NHU’s students were affected and had to either transfer or switch majors.

In January, the school announced that the campus would stop taking new enrollees.

“The reality is we’re in a very difficult financial situation,” NHU president Gladys Ato, told the Mercury News. At the time, the enrollment in the four-year school stood at about 600 students.

NHU’s chancellor David Lopez told the paper that the NHU Foundation — an independent group set up after the sale to Laureate that owns the main building — is seeking a charter K-12 school to take over the space.

The foundation also intends to run a training academy for college grads hoping to earn teaching credentials — probably in partnership with another university — as well as a research center to study what sorts of teaching methods work best among Latinos.

“I’m looking forward to the future,” Lopez told the Mercury News, “to the evolution of Hispanic education and opportunities for our community.”

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