People often ask me what has changed in the fifteen years since I was a student at HMI. I tell them that the best parts of HMI remain the same: our students still live in cabins, go backpacking with their teachers, and have dance parties while mopping up the kitchen after dinner. But the school has become more intentional and focused in certain important areas, especially diversity and inclusion.
In some ways HMI has long been a leader in bringing together students from diverse backgrounds. Since our inception we have used the wilderness as a catalyst for building strong relationships and tight communities among people who have different life experiences. At HMI, I was a New York City boy who counted among my closest friends a student from rural New Hampshire and another from nearby Silverthorne, Colorado. We learned from each other and visited each other after HMI, experiencing firsthand what it means to grow up in a city, or the country, or the mountains.
But, in 2005, HMI’s student body mostly lacked ethnic and racial diversity. My semester, like many early cohorts, counted less than 10% students of color in our number. When I returned to HMI in 2015 as Director of Admissions & Financial Aid, I quickly realized that increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of our student body needed to be among my top priorities. We have made progress in this area—21% of the average semester cohort now self-identify as people of color—but we are still far from our goal of a student body that is racially and ethnically representative of our country. We have also made strides towards increasing the socioeconomic diversity of our school. 30% of the average semester now receives financial aid—up from 20% when I was a student—and we have increased the percentage of our budget we commit to financial aid by approximately 70%.
Here are some of the steps we are taking as we continue to focus on diversity and access at HMI:
- Diversifying the HMI Admissions Office – Our Admissions Associate Lupe Bobadilla is now entering his second year. A Latinx man and an advocate for equity and inclusion within the student and staff communities, Lupe’s title will be expanded next year to include the role of “Diversity Recruitment Coordinator.” He will take on new responsibilities supporting families of color in the admissions pipeline and building relationships with diversity leaders at our sending schools.
- Making Spanish-language resources available to prospective families – For several years I have communicated in Spanish with prospective families, including many from our local Leadville community. Lupe’s Spanish fluency far surpasses mine, and starting next year we will begin offering Spanish-language webinars and increasing Spanish-language accessibility on our website.
- Increasing our commitment to financial aid – Currently, about 30% of Semester students receive financial aid. As part of our five-year strategic plan we aim to increase that percentage to 40%. This year, in response to a huge spike in need, we were able to significantly increase our financial aid budget to support families whose incomes had decreased as a result of the pandemic.
- Building recruitment pipelines with public schools, charter schools, and educational access non-profits – We are building new relationships with schools and nonprofits such as YES Prep in Houston, KIPP NYC College Prep in New York, TORCH in Minnesota, and the Aldo Leopold Charter School in New Mexico. These organizations now regularly send us high-achieving, high-financial aid students who otherwise might never have found HMI. We will continue to develop these and other recruitment pipelines moving forward.
- Working to diminish program inequities between financial aid and full-pay students – HMI has always offered outdoor gear at reduced or no cost to our financial aid students. In recent years, we have worked with the Gear Room to improve the quality of rented gear so that there is now little difference between brand new gear and HMI rental gear. HMI’s highest financial aid students now receive a new pair of hiking boots before the semester starts that are theirs to keep after the program ends.
We are always looking for ways to attract a more diverse population to HMI. Interested in discussing diversity, access, and inclusion in HMI Admissions? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach out to Ray McGaughey or Lupe Bobadilla with your thoughts, questions or suggestions.