Latino Success Stories Can Help All Students


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October 23, 2016

Colleges that are looking for innovative ways to help all their students succeed should take a close look at some of the practices that have helped Latino students in particular.

Latinos are the youngest and among the fastest growing segments of America’s population. The gaps in educational attainment between Latinos and other groups have led a number of colleges with large Latino enrollments to seek new ways to help them. Our organization, Excelencia in Education, which uses evidence-based research on educational practices to influence policy, tracks and recognizes such efforts each year.

We have learned that innovation does not require new technologies or the creation of new bells and whistles. Our program Examples of Excelencia is the only national initiative to recognize evidence-based programs designed specifically to help Latino students succeed in college. Over the past decade we have reviewed more than 1,300 nominations and awarded special recognition to 150 programs. By linking equity and innovation in new ways, and by using a Latino lens to identify what works, we have identified strategies that serve other students who do not fit the traditional profile of college students. They may be students of color, first-generation students, working students, or students who are taking courses at multiple colleges or returning to the classroom after time off.

Following is a sampling of practices, recently recognized by our organization, that have helped Latino students but could also help others.

Creating holistic educational pathways. While such an approach is not rocket science, it is rare. The Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program is a consortium of public schools and colleges in Northern Virginia — including Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University ­­— that helps the growing population of students who face substantial barriers to college access and completion. The program serves as a support network to thousands of students, about 45 percent of whom are Latino. It emphasizes peer, family, and community engagement, along with intensive academic advising. Program participants’ rates of college transition, retention, academic success, completion, and transfer are significantly higher than national benchmarks, and Latino students do as well as or better than other Pathway students, according to the program’s statistics. Some 97 percent of all program participants graduated from high school on time, 88 percent successfully transitioned into postsecondary education, and 70 percent were in good academic standing after the first semester. Of Pathway students who transferred from Northern Virginia, 82 percent completed a baccalaureate degree within three years.

Introducing young children to a collegebound culture. The College Success Program at the Barrio Logan College Institute, a community-based organization in San Diego, starts preparing children for college in third grade. The program works directly with parents, and with more than 50 partners from schools, community-based organizations, and employers that support students through K-12 and college. Since it was founded in 1996 with a dozen students from one of San Diego’s lowest performing schools, the institute has grown to host nearly 400 students annually. More than 80 percent of students it serves enroll directly in a four-year university program, and 90 percent have graduated or will soon graduate with a four-year degree, according to program statistics.

Linking academic rigor with cultural competence and language to serve community needs. Since 1980, the social-work program at St. Augustine College, in Chicago, has helped fulfill the need for Latino and bilingual social workers in the area. According to the college, it is the only such program of its kind in the region. The major provides a pathway that allows two-year students to transfer into its four-year program, and its graduates are eligible for an accelerated master’s-degree program in social work at St. Augustine. The program accommodates college students who are balancing family, work, and academic responsibilities by providing services such as tutoring and free child care. Some 90 percent of students earn their degree within four years of entering the program, according to the college, and approximately half of its graduates are now employed by agencies serving Latinos.

Intentionally recruiting students who are underrepresented in areas of national need. The Enhancing Postbaccalaureate Opportunities at CSUF for Hispanic Students program, at California State University at Fullerton, collaborates with several campus offices in an effort designed to raise the number of Latinos who earn a master’s degree. The program, known as Epochs, offers graduate students a special orientation session, Spanish-language workshops for family members, teaching assistantships, and meetings with faculty advisers that focus on cultural competency and outreach with community groups. These special efforts have led to a 57-percent increase in Latino master’s-degree candidates since 2010 and nearly closed the gap in the graduation rate between Latino and white students, according to the university.

At a time when the population of college students continues to diversify — by race, ethnicity, gender, income, and working status — we are fortunate to have strong examples of innovative practices that are helping to advance educational equity as well as our broader society.

Sarita Brown is president and Deborah Santiago is chief operating officer and vice president for public policy at Excelencia in Education. Descriptions of all programs recognized under the group’s "Examples of Excelencia" initiative can be found at


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