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Lumina Foundation Launches Latino College Completion Initiative

The Lumina Foundation is giving organizations and colleges that are building a pipeline of Latino students and promoting college completion a boost with a four-year, $600,000 grant for each institution. Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis told Diverse of the Latino Student Success initiative, “We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. We want to build on the experience of these organizations and support programs that are already working.”

Twelve programs—ranging from the organization, The Hispanic Federation, in New York to the Arizona two-year school, Phoenix College—in 10 states will be receiving funds from the foundation, which is doling out about $7.2 million total. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States at 50 million. By 2025, about half of the U.S. workforce will be of Latino descent, the Lumina Foundation reported.

“Latinos are emblematic of today’s 21st century students,” said Merisotis. “They are largely first-generation college students—many of whom are working adults, with family responsibilities who oftentimes begin their postsecondary education in community colleges. Increasing the access and attainment rates of Latinos is critical, and our hope is that Latino Student Success will provide catalytic support that can have a positive impact on making all 21st century students more successful.”

Grant recipients must work on connecting with the community, partner with state and private entities, measure their efforts and use data collect to better tailor the programs to students’ needs.

“The focus is really on these partnerships. Research is pretty clear that Latinos have limited mobility when it comes to college,” said Merisotis. “They go close to home for financial reasons, and their family ties are very strong.”

Dr. Casandra Kakar, vice president of academic affairs at Phoenix College, said she hopes to boost Latino enrollment significantly with her school’s Degree Phoenix partnership, which will be receiving the grant. While Phoenix College has a Latino student population of 37 percent, area high schools are about 78 percent Latino. “We’re all aware that this is an area where we need to improve,” she said.

In the next four years she hopes to build a stronger Web presence, get the word out in the community about the Maricopa to Arizona State University Pathways Program, and target Workforce Investment Act young people.

“It’s been successful, but it needs to be stronger,” she said of the college’s Degree Phoenix partnership. She also hopes to hire a director to oversee the project and collect data on it. Still, she said, “We had the structure in place that they [Lumina officials] were looking for.”


Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president of Long Beach City College in California, also sees the funds as a significant boost for LBCC’s Promise Pathways program for Latino students.

“We believe that this infusion will help us keep moving forward,” said Oakley, adding that Promise Pathways currently provides every area high school student with one free semester at the college if he or she decides to attend.

“The trick is to get them straight from high school to college,” said Oakley. “We’re not creating something new here.”

LBCC partnered with the Long Beach Unified School District to build a pipeline of Latino students. Along with providing a scholarship not contingent on grades, the Promise Pathways program aligns high school and college coursework.

Oakley hopes to build a sustainable model for Latino educational attainment. “We can no longer leave students of color behind,” he said.

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