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UTEP, Maricopa County Community College Recognized for Hispanic Graduation Efforts

UTEP, Maricopa County Community College
Recognized for Hispanic Graduation Records

Excelencia in Education honors schools during inaugural symposium.
By Blair S. Walker

The University of Texas at El Paso and Maricopa County Community College in Arizona have the nation’s two best programs when it comes to enrolling and graduating Latino students, according to the nonprofit Latino education organization Excelencia in Education.

The schools and their programs were singled out during a symposium facilitated by Excelencia, a Washington-based group dedicated to achieving higher education success for Latino students. UTEP’s Model Institutions for Excellence program and MCCC’s Achieving a College Education program both earned the 2006 Examples of Excelencia award.

Complemented by $5,000 grants, the awards were presented in Orlando late last month, in conjunction with an annual conference hosted by the nonprofit group National College Access Network. The awards were part of an inaugural Excelencia Symposium that featured a panel of experts on Latino higher education issues.

Several hundred educators attended the symposium, which ended with a question-and-answer session.

“Improving Latino student success in higher education is in the national interest,” says Sarita E. Brown, the president and founder of Excelencia. “While Latinos are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group, Latino students lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups in educational attainment.”

UTEP’s Model Institutions for Excellence program was implemented in 1995. Since 2000, UTEP has been one of the top 10 institutions in the country in terms of awarding baccalaureate degrees to Latino students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, according to the U.S. Department of Education. UTEP ranks eighth in Diverse’s Top 100 in granting the most bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics, and third in conferring the most engineering baccalaureates to Hispanics (see Diverse, June 1).

The Texas commuter school’s College of Engineering also was ranked fourth in the Diverse list for graduating the most Hispanics with engineering master’s.

Joe Ramos, a UTEP administrator who addressed the Excelencia Symposium, says the recognition his school is getting is justified. “For us, it’s kind of a validation for the work we’ve been doing for 10 years,” he says. Ramos oversees four on-campus sites where Latino undergraduates majoring in engineering and science can form study groups and receive tutoring.

“It’s not just about educating Latinos, but an underprivileged population,” Ramos says. “A lot of the lessons that we’ve learned can be applied to other places, and to other groups, as well.”

The Achieving a College Education program at MCCC is a K-20 program that was started nearly two decades ago. From 2002 through 2005, ACE participants had a college enrollment rate of 83 percent, compared with a U.S. average of 67 percent, Education Department statistics indicate. In addition, the average GPA for ACE college graduates is 3.1, as opposed to an average of 2.81 for the general student population.

Maricopa County high school students associated with ACE experienced an average graduation rate of 92 percent from 2002 through 2005, compared with a national average of 74 percent.

The two winning programs were culled from 42 Examples of Excelencia nominees. A few programs were self-nominated, but most nominations were forwarded by administrators and faculty, says Brown.

The 42 hopefuls were reduced to 15 semifinalists, with the two ultimate winners emerging. Last year’s inaugural Examples of Excelencia award went to the math department at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Nominees for the award “need to have a record of achievement in graduating Latino students, and the nominated program or department needs to have leadership that focuses on equity and excellence in academic achievement,” says Brown, who was executive director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, under President Clinton.

They also need to have a significant presence of Latino faculty and professional staff,” she adds. 

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