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Excelencia Report Highlights Best Practices in Preparing Latinx Students for Workforce

In a new report, Excelencia in Education analyzes how Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), which enroll over 65% of Latinx students, are strategically planning for their Latinx students’ workforce success.

The report, titled “Tapping Latino Talent: How HSIs are Preparing Latino Students for the Workforce,” highlights four institutions as part of a case study including Felician University, Florida International University, Lehman College and Texas Woman’s University.

“We needed to understand what the institutions are doing and how can they better change what they’re doing to better serve the students,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia.

According to the report, 16% of the workforce is Latinx and 75% has a high school degree or higher compared to 90% of White, African American and Asian populations. Additionally, 22% of Latinxs in the workforce are enrolled in management, professional and related occupations compared to 41% of their White counterparts.

Through the case studies, the report identified a number of strategies the institutions had in common on how best to serve Latinx students.

Rather than only through career services, workforce preparation occurs on all aspects of the campus. Faculty and career services staff often collaborate and workforce development goals are included in strategic plans. According to the report, 44% of Latinx students are first-generation compared to 22% of White students.

Deborah SantiagoDeborah Santiago

The institutions have adapted to both the changing workforce and student bodies by offering more flexible courses as well as evening or weekend events and creating mentorship programs.

Both within and outside the classroom, institutions offer experiential learning opportunities. For example, scholarship funds have been established to support students working in unpaid internships.

The institutions also modify their outreach to students by conducting surveys and establishing advisory boards to further understand overall career needs.

Lastly, the institutions work with local employers to meet regional business needs and create a smoother transition from school to work. Such institutions have partnered with local K-12 schools, hospitals and non-profits to create service, experiential learning and career opportunities.

“These institutions know who their students are and were able to pivot to serve them,” said Santiago. “They were able to change some of their structural thinking such as career services and experiential learning. Because they knew where their Hispanic students were, what they were studying and how to support them. I know it sounds trite, but it’s really not. If you know who your students are, you can tailor and support them where their strengths and needs are.”

Excelencia laid out three recommendations for institutions and employers to follow in order to create more success among Latinx students: “promoting participation in experiential learning opportunities, making workforce development an allowable activity for Title V grants to support institutions in creating workforce programs and incentivizing engagement between employers and institutions.”

Santiago said that if institutions and employers are looking to diversify the workforce, they need to go to where students are rather than waiting for them to apply.

“There’s a proactive nature that I think the institutions did that employers and graduate schools need to do as well,” she said. “Because if you need to find your workforce and diversify it, you’ve got to go to where we are.”

Through the findings, Santiago also saw the core part of change coming from students voicing their needs to institutions.

“Institutions were listening to their students who said they needed certain things,” she added.

Originally, the report was scheduled to be released in March. However, after COVID-19, Excelencia decided to further research how the institutions have helped Latinx graduates and students navigate the job market during the pandemic.

In April, 19% of Latinxs were unemployed, according to the report.

During this time, the institutions focused on meeting their students’ basic needs through financial aid, health and counseling services, housing support, technology and food assistance. Career services, workforce preparation workshops and networking opportunities were accessible remotely for students. Additionally, institutions used partnerships with employers to help students complete internships for credit remotely.

“We often forget to rethink that these institutions of higher ed are inflexible,” said Santiago. “Many of them are but there are some that are paying attention to their community and students.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].

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