Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Operation Completion

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Operation Completion

Article excerpt

Excelencia in Education spearheads collaboration among advocacy groups to improve Hispanic college attendance and graduation rates.

Dozens of organizations around the country share the goal of improving Latino college student success, but there's been little progress in closing the educational-attainment gap.

Latinos significantly lag behind Whites, Blacks and Asians/Pacific Islanders in degree completion. The majority of Latinos in America - 87 percent - say a college education is extremely important, according to a poll last spring sponsored by The Associated Press, Univision Communications, The Nielsen Company and Stanford University. Yet, Census data show that only 13 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor's degree or higher as compared with 20 percent of Blacks, 53 percent of Asians and 33 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.

Although the number of Latinos attending and completing college has risen, those increases are not commensurate with increases in the population of Hispanics, who represent 15.8 percent of the U.S. population.

The desire to close the gap is there, but what has been missing, one education advocate believes, are vehicles for collective action.

"We've talked a lot about it, but when you actually look at the progress in capturing this human potential ... there needs to be much more," says Sarita E. Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based education policy think tank focused on Hispanic issues.

"There are many ways that organizations can more effectively collaborate. Organizations with similar missions and purpose can be more efficient and effective at connecting and producing results," Brown adds.

Excelencia this month launches a new initiative that brings the leadership of various higher education advocacy, philanthropy, public policy and federal agencies together to work on ways of increasing the number of Latinos earning a college degree. The campaign, which was to launch Sept. 8, follows a policy forum of the same name, "Ensuring America's Future by Increasing Latino College Completion," last spring that brought 80 professionals together in Washington.

The effort, to run through Jan. 31, 2011, calls for educational groups to collaborate in order to eliminate competition and unnecessary duplication of programs. O rgan izations may be asked to step up efforts in certain areas, defer some efforts to other organizations that may do it better, work together in developing and enhancing existing programs, or forgo introducing new programs that another organization already has. Organizations invited to join include the College Board, Kellogg Foundation, National Council of La Raza and the U.S. Department of Education.

Brown describes the forum and initiative as a "convergence" of elements: Money to fund it was available from the Bill St Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education; Excelencias research showed that the progress in Latino college completion was moving too slowly and needed a push to propel it forward; and President Barack Obama set a goal for the United States to become the top country in the world for college-degree attainment by 2020.

"What Excelencia in Education is doing is saying, 'We're at a point in this country where [in order] to meet [Obama's] college-completion goal, we have to focus on Latino students,'" says Brown. "The growth of the Latino community and this national goal converge."

Changing Perspectives

Those that have signaled their intention to sign on will bring with them plenty of research and expertise about the barriers Latinos face and best practices for improving access and outcomes. One of them, the 17-year-old D.C.-based Hispanic College Fund, has experience providing an array of services to motivate Hispanic high school students and position them for college as well as steer those in college to professional careers.

The perception that college is unaffordable is the biggest barrier, says George Cushman, vice president of programs for HCF, which has hosted college-information events in Arizona, Maryland, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia this year in collaboration with local partners. …

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