Setting a new standard

In an effort to significantly increase the number of Latinos attaining college degrees over the next decade, a national organization that promotes Latino student success in higher education is launching a new program that will recognize colleges and universities that excel in that area.

Excelencia in Education this week announced its Seal of Excelencia, an initiative to credential higher education institutions based on leadership, evidence-based practices and use of data to ensure Latino student success. It will include metrics such as Latino student enrollment, retention, graduation rates, student aid/financial support and Latino representation in administrative, staff and faculty positions.

The voluntary designation is, in part, designed to help Latino students select colleges that best serve their education goals.

“The seal will signal that an institution has developed a comprehensive and systemic approach to accelerating Latino student success,” said Excelencia President Sarita Brown. “It demonstrates the commitment to raise the bar, and measure how effectively institutions serve Latino students through to degree completion. While Latino college-going is improving, change must happen faster to increase the numbers of Latino college graduates.”

Excelencia plans to award the seal to the first group of colleges and universities in early 2019.

The initiative has significant support in the higher education community, from individual institutions and state systems to national organizations, such as the American Association of Community Colleges.

More than 65 percent of all Latino students, who comprise the largest and fastest-growing group in U.S. higher education, currently attend Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), which are defined as colleges where at least a quarter of full-time students are Hispanic. Among the top five U.S. undergraduate institutions with the highest number of Hispanic enrollments are four community colleges.

Why it’s important

Increasing college completion among Hispanics is critical to the U.S. as their population continues to increase rapidly. For the U.S. to again top the list of nation’s with college-degree recipients, Latinos will need to earn 6.1 million more degrees by 2020, according to Excelencia.

Currently, only 22 percent of Latinos ages 25 and older have an associate degree or higher, compared to 39 percent of all U.S. adults.

The Excelencia seal draws on the organization’s experience in identifying and developing promising practices in increasing graduation and long-term success of Latino college students, according to officials.

“Rather than advocating for change through top-down policies that are often monolithic, are perceived as punitive, or require additional funding, Excelencia will work with institutions to build up their capacity and better use the resources at their disposal,” Excelencia said in a press release.

To earn the seal, institutions must show momentum in three core areas:

  • Robust and accurate data systems. Institutions must show their commitment to Latino enrollment, retention, financial support and graduation, as well as Latino representation among administration, faculty and staff.
  • Consistent, transparent use of evidence-based practices. Colleges and universities must quantitatively and qualitatively show positive impact over several years of practices that yield Latino student success.
  • Strong, committed leadership. Institutions demonstrate the public commitment of their president/chancellor and board to improving Latino student success, including creating and executing a strategic plan and ensuring that practices and policies are aligned with current data.

 In the spotlight

In addition to its new initiative, Excelencia announced the selected colleges for its annual Examples of Exelencia, which spotlight four outstanding programs that have shown evidence-based results in improving Latino student success in higher education. Cerritos College in California was recognized for associate-level programs. The college’s Cerritos Compete program teams with five local school districts to help high school seniors transition to college using academic and student services, as well as personal and financial support.

Students in the program were twice as likely to have completed 40 or more units during their first two years compared to the college’s regular first-time student cohort (54 percent compared to 26 percent), according to Excelencia. Participants were also twice as likely to have enrolled in nine units or more, compared to all Cerritos College students.

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