Latino College Student Success Programs Honored

When Daniela Torres was finishing her Associate of Arts in Teaching degree at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, her class got a series of visits from staff and faculty at Texas Tech University who came to invite the students to take the next step.

Those visits proved critical in encouraging Torres to enroll in STEP 2—a program at Texas Tech’s College of Education that helps students at South Plains College make the transition from the two-year institution to its four-year college.

The STEP 2 program (STEP is an acronym for Successful Transition to Educator Preparation) is one of three programs honored Tuesday by Excelencia in Education for their success in helping Latino students get to and through college. The ceremony, which was held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, took place during Excelencia’s sixth annual “Celebración de Excelencia.” Diverse was a co-sponsor of the event, which included attendance by Dr. Martha Kanter, the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Jon Whitmore, the CEO of ACT.

The other two honored programs are the Early College High School Initiative at El Paso Community College, which seeks to compress the time it takes to earn an associate’s degree by blending high school and college courses for high school students, and the Ph.D. Clinical Psychology Program at Carlos Albizu University, San Juan Campus, in Puerto Rico, which trains culturally sensitive psychologists in a Hispanic or Latino cultural context.

All of the programs were given certificates of recognition and $5,000 awards from Excelencia to help support and grow their programs.

Though the three programs honored by Excelencia all serve students at different stages in their post-secondary careers, they share common threads with respect to their success in helping Latino students attain college degrees, said Deborah Santiago, Vice President for Policy and Research at Excelencia.

While none of the programs exclusively serve Latino students, Santiago said, one of the common threads is that all of them have evidence of Latino students doing as well or better than other students in the program.

“Another common thread is that they have strong institutional and programmatic leadership, and they are overt and intentional about serving Latinos among all of the students that they serve,” Santiago said.

With the STEP 2 program, that overtness and intentionality are reflected in efforts such as the visits that Texas Tech educators paid to Torres and her fellow students when they were enrolled at South Plains College.

“It actually played a big part in my decision to enroll (at Texas Tech),” Torres said of the visits she got from Texas Tech. “We do have choices. We have other universities in town.”

Once Torres enrolled in STEP 2 at Texas Tech, the school continued to take an interest in her academic success and career development in a variety of ways.

For instance, through STEP 2, Torres attended a series of workshops and conferences where educators discussed topics and issues not commonly dealt with in the regular classroom, such as how to manage time and student behavior.

STEP 2 also paired Torres with a mentor that she could consult with throughout her time at Texas Tech. Now that she’s a senior, Torres serves as a mentor herself and earns a modest stipend for her service. Students in STEP also get stipends, Torres said.

In addition, STEP 2 makes students aware of scholarships available for students with Hispanic backgrounds. Torres won one such scholarship from Raiders Rojos, a Hispanic alumni organization at Texas Tech.

Torres was born in Mexico but moved to the United States with her parents at the age of 8. She said the stipends and scholarships she earned through the STEP 2 program proved crucial to her college success. Her mother is a cleaner at a meat processing plant. Her father works at a dairy farm. The family could ill afford to put Torres through college on their own.

Torres is a senior and plans to graduate this May.

The STEP 2 program, created in 2005, has assisted 124 transfer students, a little more than a third of which have been Latino students, according to Excelencia. The program boasts a 100 percent graduation rate.

The early college program at El Paso has served more than 1,500 in its five years, 110 of which have completed their associate’s degree during their junior year or who have begun taking courses toward their bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at El Paso while in high school, Excelencia says.

As for the Ph.D. Clinical Psychology Program at Carlos Albizu University, a total of 147 doctoral students have graduated from 2001 through 2008. Of that number, 98 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and 94 percent are licensed in clinical psychology. The program’s retention rate is 80 percent.