Excelencia in Education Highlights Programs Promoting Latino College Completion

Over the past seven years, the advocacy group Excelencia in Education has compiled an impressive list of programs that are working to improve the college graduation rates of Latinos.

Every year, the group recognizes nominees in the areas of associate, bachelor and graduate level programs that have a track record of increasing Latino college enrollment, improving academic outcomes and increasing graduation rates.

For the 2012 Examples of Excelencia report, 159 programs were nominated. Of those nominees, three received the top awards and 16 others were national finalists.

Here’s a little bit of information about the top three programs recognized this year:

Valencia College’s Direct Connect . The University of Central Florida and four Florida community colleges partnered in 2006 to promote smoother transfers between colleges and universities. The colleges and universities share use of certain classrooms and labs, as well as advisors. Since the program’s inception, 3,695 Latino students have transfered from community colleges to the university.

– California State University, Bakersfield, School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering. The university has focused on increasing the number of Latinos studying in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, in addition to working with nearby Bakersfield College to provide streamlined transfers between the two entities. About 40 percent of the program’s 1,039 students are Latino. About half of the community college transfer students studying in STEM programs are Latino, an increase from 22 percent in 2006. The university has also seen an increase in the number of Hispanic students majoring in STEM fields.

– University of Texas, El Paso, Master of Business Administration. The predominantly Latino university has focused on strengthening the MBA program through various efforts. They include diversifying faculty and expanding recruitment efforts. More than 59 percent of the 320 students served by the program annually are Hispanic and there were 104 Hispanic graduates from the program in 2010.

Excelencia will begin accepting nominations for next year’s list in January 2013. A searchable database is available online that lists past honorees, so you can search for programs in your area that may be worthy of media coverage.

Related Links:

– Examples of Excelencia 2012.

– Growing What Works Database.

– “Seventh annual Celebracion de Excelencia event honors top programs that increase Latino student success in College.” Excelencia in Education.

El Paso Superintendent Pushed Latino Students to Drop Out

During his time  in power, El Paso Public Schools superintendent Lorenzo Garcia sought to identify struggling students who hurt the district’s ratings and then worked to push them out of the system.

At a time when efforts to reverse the dismal high school graduation rates of Latino students is a national education discussion, Garcia was actively pursuing the opposite agenda. In 2011, about 83 percent of El Paso students were Latino. The former Texas superintendent recently pleaded guilty to fraud and now possibly faces several years of jail time, reports The Associated Press.

He resorted to practices including having staff photograph students crossing the border from Mexico to attend the school district, and then seeking to remove those who were not performing well. He used assessments to identify freshmen at risk of failing state exams. He also held back high school freshmen who were limited English proficient, had attendance issues or had bad grades. Students were urged to leave school or transfer to charter schools.

Once the students were gone, test scores rose because the most at-risk students were gone and no longer able to impact the ratings. As a result, the district’s rating improved from “Academically Acceptable” to a “Recognized” rating. The district also became eligible for more federal funding.

Former Texas State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh was the one who finally brought attention to the practices after hearing complaints from parents. The El Paso Times newspaper also played a key role by requesting correspondence between the school district and federal officials, which exposed the scandal.

Former student Roger Avalos, one of the dropouts, is happy to see Garcia facing prison time. He is taking classes to earn his GED while working at a cowboy boot factory.

“Justice would be getting my high school diploma, a picture with the cap and gown,” said the now 21-year-old.

Have you heard of school officials urging students at risk of failing accountability exams to transfer to charter schools? Do school officials find struggling students worth helping, or do they give up on them and instead focus on helping more borderline students?

Related Links:

– “El Paso school district seeks to rebuild after fraudulent testing practices by administrators.” The Associated Press.

– “Eliot Shapleigh: Former EPISD superintendent deserves harsh sentence.” El Paso Times.