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The Reach

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Doing More to Help Latino Students Succeed

Doing More to Help Latino Students Succeed

Sarita Brown was the first in her family to go to college, and she knew how fortunate she was. She found her calling 30 years ago when, as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, she collaborated with others to build a national model promoting minority success in graduate education. 

“Back then, we believed that demographics and self-interest would compel the educational system to adapt to capture the talents of the young and growing Latino community,” she said. “I was wrong.”

In 2004 she founded Excelencia in Education, which uses data and examples of effective efforts to compel institutions and supports to take action to help today’s Latino students thrive in college, the workforce and society. Brown says census data released in 2000 seemed to kick-start the conversation about the growing Latino population and what that means for education.

“But it’s not enough to keep talking about it,” she said. “We need to act with intention and purpose.”

Brown and her team led an Educational Forum during NerdNation 2016 on just that — how community colleges can be more intentional in developing and nurturing the Latino population on their campuses and accelerating college success rates for Latino students.

Some quick facts from Excelencia in Education’s research:

  • If the United States is to regain the top ranking in the world for college degree attainment, Latinos will need to earn 5.5 million more degrees by 2020.
  • Latinos account for 17 percent of the U.S. population, but only 20 percent of Latino adults have earned an associate degree or higher, compared to 36 percent of all adults.
  • In 2012, 46 percent of Latinos in higher education were enrolled in community colleges, and that number is expected to increase by 27 percent through 2022.
  • Over half of Latino students at two-year colleges need remediation.

“Helping Latino students thrive and succeed in education isn’t just about equity — it’s about the nation’s economic future,” Brown said.

Excelencia in Education keeps a searchable database, “Growing What Works,” that recognizes and catalogues programs and institutions that are leading the way for success among Latino students. Here are two examples of programs that work. 

The Early College High School Program, South Texas College

This program, which was recognized as an Example of Excelencia in 2015, targets potential first-generation college students from low socio-economic backgrounds while they’re still in high school and provides them with the tools and support they may need to succeed in college.

Ninth and 10th grade students are allowed to prepare for college-level work; and then in their 11th and 12th grade years, they can take dual-enrollment courses, giving them a head start on their college degree.

As of 2015, roughly 6,000 students were successfully enrolled in college coursework, and 98 percent of them were Hispanic. Since the program began in 2010, 1,431 students have graduated with associate degrees.

“The partnerships are making great strides in closing the education gap,” Brown said. “This additional college preparation, support and guidance are practices that meet the needs of Latino students, and it starts early.” 

The Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program (LARES), the University of Illinois at Chicago

This program received an Example of Excelencia award in 2014. LARES has been developing innovative recruitment and retention strategies since 1975.

The program forms partnerships with grammar schools, public and private high schools, city and community colleges and social service and community agencies to facilitate access to college. It also offers academic advising, financial aid, scholarship assistance, tutoring, graduate school preparation and a student and parent orientation.

In addition, the LARES program provides educational opportunities for students to improve their college-level skills in math, reading, writing and critical thinking, all while developing leadership skills.

In the last decade alone, the University of Illinois at Chicago has seen its freshman Latino enrollment increase by 80 percent.

“These kinds of recruitment and retainment strategies help close the gap and encourage more Latino students to earn their degrees,” Brown said.

Phi Theta Kappa will serve as a sponsor of Examples of Excelencia 2016, a national initiative that recognizes and promotes programs at community-based organizations and institutions supporting Latino student success.

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