Leaders at institutional, local and national levels are looking for effective practices to accelerate college degree completion in the United States. Given the growth and youth of the Latino population, identifying practices with evidence of effectiveness in increasing Latinos’ educational achievement in college will be useful. However, before the creation of the Examples of Excelencia initiative, no nationally centralized effort existed to identify, recognize and disseminate promising practices improving Latino student success in higher education.
Examples of Excelencia was created in 2005 to identify and recognize promising practices with evidence of effectiveness in accelerating Latino student achievement within colleges and universities. Since then, more than 150 programs and departments from institutions of higher education across the country have been nominated at the associate, bachelor and graduate levels for their practices to improve Latino college achievement. These nominations have included programs in states with large Latino representation, like California, Texas and Florida, as well as states with small but growing Latino populations, such as Oregon, Kansas and North Carolina.
Beyond geographic diversity, the nominated programs also represent diverse program activities and disciplines addressing Latino achievement. The program activities ranged from college preparation to student and parent outreach and from transfer services and retention efforts to academic support programs. The disciplines included such diverse areas as calculus, nursing, education, and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). None of the programs nominated serve Latino students exclusively but these programs are paying attention to the students they serve and are disaggregating their data to understand and report how Latino students are performing. Moreover, program officials are using this data to further improve their institutional efforts.
For the first time since Examples of Excelencia was created, the three programs selected as Examples of Excelencia are located in one state — California. This may not come as a complete surprise since California has the highest concentration of Latino college students in the country. In 2007, California enrolled one-third of all Latino college students in the U.S. However, given the state’s recent economic challenges and the concerns raised about the decreases in financial support and limitations to the higher education system’s capacity, the commitment of these institutions to support practices that improve student success in general, and the success of Latino students in particular during these challenging times is noteworthy. However, this is also troublesome. At a time when efforts are being made to identify what is working to increase student success, it is entirely possible the financial support and number of students served may decrease.
We need to make sure there are no excuses for improving Latino student achievement. While funding will remain a critical issue, institutions must also consider ways to modify their practices to better serve their students. Examples of Excelencia provides information on many diverse efforts with evidence of improving Latino student success. Now, the challenge becomes ensuring that leaders know programs and departments with evidence of effectiveness of serving Latinos exist. We have to continue a national organizing campaign to inform and move an engaged community of partners to effectively increase Latino student achievement. As institutions and their leaders recognize the growing Latino student population, they can no longer say they do not know what to do.
For more information about Examples of Excelencia, please visit the following Web site: EdExcelencia.org.
Deborah A. Santiago, Vice President for Policy and Research, Excelencia in Education