A new report finds some programs across the country have successfully helped Latino students attend and complete college. (Photo/Getty Images )

Replicating Latino college success, one program at a time

A new report from Excelencia in Education finds that even modestly-funded small programs in colleges across the country can do a very good job of helping Latinos gain access to college, stay in college and transfer from 2-year to 4-year institutions.  The key is to make sure these programs intentionally seek Latino students, have the full support and commitment from their institutions, and value and utilize the role of family and peers in their approach.

“There are people who think you need a million dollars for an institution to develop a program to increase Latino college success,” says Deborah Santiago, Vice President of Policy and co-founder of Excelencia in Education.  “But if an institution can have a successful program with $50,000, it’s worthwhile to consider.”

Excelencia used initial money from the Walmart foundation and later the Kresge Foundation to give out grants of between $25,000 and $50,000 to 25 institutions, out of 225 who applied. These SEMILLAS grants, an acronym for “Seeding Educational Models that Impact and Leverage Latino Academic Success” as well as the Spanish word for seeds, were used to fund projects to foster college access, retention, and transfers to increase Latino student success under the Growing What Works (GWW) Initiative.

The 25 programs served over 6,000 Latino and non-Latino students in 11 states. They also served over 900 families and parents through activities which stressed the need for college and what it would require.  The programs included the College-Now Algebra Transition program, a collaboration between several high schools and Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, which had an 85 percent completion rate.  The Mother-Daughter Program in Knox College, Illinois to encourage and inform families on the importance of college completion, had a 100 percent retention rate.

“Latino families make decisions together and an informed family is more supportive,” says Santiago.  She says in one of these programs, some mothers decided to enroll in college after participating with their daughters.

Other programs that served to educate parents and make them participants’ in their children’s college success were the Upward Bound Parent-to-Parent program at the University of Texas at Brownsville and the College Academy for Parents (CAP) at the University of Arizona at Tucson.

In California, the Pre-Medical and Health Scholars Program at the University of California in San Francisco-Fresno helped tutor first generation, low-income students and encourage them to pursue health careers. And in Eastern Connecticut State University, the Dual Enrollment Program helped Latinos from disadvantaged backgrounds make the transition to a four-year college and even gave them the opportunity to live in university housing. Ninety percent of the students returned the second year, an even higher number than the rest of the incoming freshmen, where only 78 percent of them returned.

Santiago says these successful programs had certain things in common.  They tended to use “cohort” models so students can interact and get information from other young people, since they can be more reluctant to ask an adult or an administration official for help. The programs were also “intentional” — they sought Latino students out instead of just waiting to be ‘found.’

Just as importantly, says Santiago, these institutions had ‘skin in the game;’ they were willing to support these programs by providing facilities, putting money into the program or even picking up the cost of the program when the grant ended, she explains.

In 2011, only 21 percent of Latino adults over 25 years of age had an associate degree or higher, compared to 40 percent of all adults. Now, Latinos are the second largest group enrolled in the nation’s colleges.

Yet the Growing What Works report found that “while the number of Latino students seeking to enroll in colleges and universities has increased, the level of institutional change to support their academic success has not kept pace.”

It is because of this, says Santiago, that effective programs across the country that are working to increase Latino college attendance and completion should be looked at and replicated.  “Even modest investments can make a difference.”

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