Latino Student-focused College Programs Honored at U.S. Capitol

Category: Latino Issues,News,Subfeature |
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by Michelle J. Nealy

WASHINGTON — Prominent political officials helped Washington-based Excelencia in Education salute collegiate programs that boost Latino student success Wednesday during the nonprofit’s fifth annual awards ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center.

Excelencia honored three organizations with proven track records for propelling Latino students forward: Carreras en Salud (Careers in Health) at Wilbur Wright College and the Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center in Chicago; the College Assistance Migrant Program at California State University San Marcos; and the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) said the Obama administration’s vested interest in the success of Latino students is evident in the steps it has taken to increase federal funding for Pell Grants and minority-serving institutions.

“By far, everything that many of us have earned is because we had to work twice as hard,” Solis said during her keynote address.

Solis said Latino students must be supported and pushed. Despite any challenges they may face, Latino students must know that the only barrier between them and educational success is themselves, she said.

If students believe they can’t achieve, they won’t, said Solis. But if they believe they can and they find assistance through Pell, mentoring and friendship that makes a big difference.

The American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and the Nexus Research and Policy Center presented Hinojosa, chairman of Congress’ subcommittee on higher education, the 2010 Legislator of the Year award.

“It’s been a privilege to work alongside my colleagues in congress to pass historic legislation including The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 and the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2010,” Hinojosa said. “These legislative achievements are a very big deal to the Latino community and low-income students.”

Excelencia, founded in 2004, supports campus leaders and policymakers in accelerating the success of Latinos in U.S. higher education. The organization highlights programs and initiatives that produce positive educational outcomes for Latino students.

The programs and initiatives recognized during the ceremony received $5,000 and will be profiled in Excelencia in Education’s 2010 edition of What Works for Latino Students in Higher Education publication. Many of the programs receiving special acknowledgement by Excelencia cater to a particular education niche and help to fill a void.

For example, Carreras addresses the need for bilingual health care professionals by providing a multi-entry, fully supported career path for nursing and other allied health occupations to those in the Latino community. In Chicago, Latinos constitute a quarter of the population but less than 2 percent of its licensed practical and registered nurses.

“I am very honored to accept this award,” said Madeline Roman-Vargas, dean of Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center upon receiving the 2010 Examples of Excellence for the associate degree level category. “It is very easy to forget that we are the ones in the trenches and sometimes when we get to Washington we forget about what’s happening over there.”

Students enrolled in Carreras have a cumulative completion rate of 94 percent among 1,200 participants, a 95 percent licensing/certification rate and nearly 100 percent placement rate for its licensed practical nurse graduates.

During the ceremony the portion of the ceremony titled, Somos Unidos (We are United), Hispanic Scholarship Fund President Frank Alvarez stressed the need for partnerships in and outside the Hispanic community.

“Forget the thing about this being Latinos taking care of Latinos,” said Alvarez. “Latinos in higher education is not just a Hispanic issue. It’s an American imperative. America cannot afford not to come together with us to make a difference. Today, 20 percent of all public school children in this country are Latino. Today, only 19 percent of Latinos 25 to 64 have an (associate) degree or higher. We need to work together.”

The far-reaching purpose of honoring organizations that produce real outcomes for Latino students is so that they can be replicated in other places, Excelencia President Sarita Brown said.

Excelencia’s in Education’s goal is to facilitate (its) use by other academic institutions and grow the number of colleges and universities across the country increasing Latino success in higher education and thus contributing to the nation’s work force and civic leadership,” she said.

CORRECTION:  Previously, it was incorrectly reported that Excelencia in Education presented Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) the Legislator of the Year award. The story has been corrected to say that the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and the Nexus Research and Policy Center presented the award.

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