Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Increasing Latino College Graduation Rates in the Lone Star State

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Increasing Latino College Graduation Rates in the Lone Star State

Article excerpt

If the U.S. is to return to the top rankings in awarding college degrees, Latinos must earn 5-5 million degrees by 2020, says the nonprofit organization Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. In October 2012, Excelencia in Education joined with Educate Texas to convene educational leaders to explore how the group could improve Latino college completion in the Rio Grande Valley.

Representatives attended from a wide swath of organizations including the University of Texas-Pan American, University of Texas-Brownsville, South Texas College, Rio South Texas Economic Council, Teach for America, Ford Foundation (which financed the event) and Communities Foundation of Texas. Nonprofit groups, four-year and junior colleges, foundations and civic organizations united to address why Latinos weren't achieving educational success in greater numbers and what specifically could be done to ameliorate the situation.

The Rio Grande Valley College Completion project is part of Excelencia's Ensuring America's Future by Increasing Latino College Completion initiative. Excelencia has spearheaded national efforts to augment Latino college graduation rates, Educate Texas targets state issues, and together they converged to jump start educational achievement in the Rio Grande Valley.

Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, said that whether the group pursues a plan laid out by President Obama, the Gates Foundation or Lumina Foundation, "that none of these aspirational goals can be met without a tactical plan for increasing Latino college completion." Since Excelencia is dedicated to "accelerating Latino student success," its goals in Texas are aligned with its national agenda.

The goals of Latino College Completion in the Rio Grande Valley include: 1) close the equity gap in college completion by 2020. 2) increase the number of degrees awarded, 3) scale up programs targeting Latino students.

Brown says that several other factors contributed to creating a special environment in the Rio Grande Valley that isn't matched in other locales. '?οιι have singular strengths in the capacity of colleges and universities in that community, and you have alignment with civic leadership and political leadership in the state," she says. For example, University of Texas-Pan American has succeeded in producing latino engineers, and the University of Texas-Brownsville increased the number of postgraduate students.

Educate Texas wanted to collaborate with Excelencia based on Excelencia's extensive experience on policy issues, explains Chris Coxon, chief program officer at Educate Texas, based in Dallas, Texas. Excelencia could examine state reports on four districts and synthesize them to support the efforts of Educate Texas, which has been working in the Rio Grande Valley for seven years.

Creating a collective in which 40 organizations work together can result in several benefits. Brown says, "This is the first time a national organization with many national partners and a state-level organization said, 'Let's look beyond organizational boundaries and come together on something we believe in. Let's aggregate our collective resources to employ them in the Rio Grande Valley."

But the conference was striving not to reinvent the wheel that didn't affect its mission. The Rio Grand Valley Collective noted that "Our work is neither intended to be a new 'program' nor an attempt to compete with existing initiatives." Llence it wanted to piggyback on many of the current success initiatives mid explore new ones that pertain to its goals.

Many of the 40 local organizations are meeting monthly to discuss which strategics are working and which need to be further developed, Coxon says. Leveraging each other's success can speed up results.

Rio Grande Valley serves as a linchpin in raising Latino college achievement in Texas because of the preponderance of Latino residents. Excelencia in Education reports that 90 percent of its population is Latino and 95 percent of the ΚΙ Ι public school students are Latino. …

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