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New Bar for Serving Hispanic Students

Beginning in January, the group will issue a "Seal of Excelencia" to colleges that meet a series of data-driven benchmarks on their commitment to ensuring that Latinx students succeed.

October 12, 2018
 
Deborah Santiago speaks about the Seal of Excelencia.

Excelencia in Education is gearing up to produce data-driven metrics on how well colleges serve Latinx students.

Deborah Santiago, CEO of the nonprofit organization that seeks to improve outcomes for Latinx students in higher education, revealed the "Seal of Excelencia" at a press conference Thursday alongside Sarita Brown, the group's president, and other supporters of the initiative.

"Thank you all for joining us as we jump off a cliff," Santiago said to a room full of college officials, philanthropists and education nonprofit staff.

The seal will challenge colleges to reach a set of data, practice and leadership benchmarks that demonstrate their institutional commitment to helping Latinx students succeed, not just by upping Latinx enrollment, but by ensuring that all parts of the college -- from student retention rates to course design and faculty representation -- contribute to Latinx student success.

“Today, one in four K-12 students and one in three children zero to five [years old] are Latino. By 2025, Latinos will make up one-fifth of all college students in this country,” said Brown. “It matters what institutions do. Latino students and Latino families firmly believe that education is the path to upward mobility.”

Latinx students lag behind their peers when it comes to college completion. Only 23 percent of Latinx adults have an associate degree or higher, compared to 47 percent of white adults and 32 percent of African American adults. Fifty-four percent of Latinx students earn bachelor's degrees within six years, compared to 63 percent of white students and 59 percent of all students.

The seal will be based on accurate and robust data, Excelencia said. To earn it, colleges must track success against five key metrics: Latinx student enrollment, retention, completion, financial support (via Pell Grants, institutional aid, employment and work-study) and representation of Latinxs in administrative, staff and faculty positions.

Exactly what the benchmarks will be and suggestions for how college should work toward them are still being hammered out. The group plans to officially release the seal in January. In the meantime, Brown encourages college officials to “do the gut check, the data check, and ask ‘is my institution ready?’”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation have both signed on to the fund the project. In addition to serving as a blueprint for colleges that want to better serve Latinx student populations, the seal will be designed to help students, families and others identify which colleges do well on those measures.

"Just as people look at other ratings, rankings and guides, people will look for the Seal of Excelencia," Brown said.

Over 60 leaders in higher education have signed off in support of the seal, including Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, Juan Salgado, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, and Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Félix Matos-Rodríguez, president of the City University of New York's Queens College, stressed the importance of sustainability with respect to implementing the seal and encouraged college leaders to keep such initiatives in mind when reworking their business plans.

“What we want is that all of these things are lasting, that they stay in the institution, and for that, they need money,” he said.

Queens College jointly received a $5.6 million grant with Queensborough Community College in 2016 that it is using to redesign all of its entry-level STEM courses, which historically have not served all students equally.

“We all know that there’s plenty of evidence that if you teach STEM a little bit differently, where your mind-set is not that of a gatekeeper … but your mind-set is to teach, students actually succeed,” Matos-Rodríguez said. “Everybody in the community is going to benefit, because we’re not just going to teach better to Latino students, we’re going to teach better to every student at Queens College.”

Brown and Santiago hope that the seal will motivate college officials to think about Latinx student success not as an afterthought, but as something that is integral to the mission of their institution.

"Achieving Latino student success is possible," Brown said. "The challenge though, is that it’s not happening fast enough."

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