Roadmap for Success

America’s continued global leadership depends on producing an educated workforce prepared to compete in the jobs and economy of tomorrow. That’s why President Obama has challenged our country to become the world leader in college degrees by 2020. In a world of finite resources, policy makers need tools to help them choose where to invest most efficiently to achieve society’s goals. That’s especially true today, where the same factors causing several consecutive years of declining revenue for state and local governments have also increased demand for the very services those revenues support. To give leaders at all levels a way forward, Excelencia in Education and its 60 national partners on March 9 launched the Roadmap for Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion.

The data is compelling that the most efficient path to American leadership in college degrees is through a particular focus on Latino college completion. Projections show Latinos must earn an additional 3.3 million degrees to close the educational attainment gap with other groups and meet the national needs for an educated citizenry and workforce. At a recent Capitol Hill event launching the Roadmap, Carol Coletta, president of CEOs for Cities, noted research showing that 58 percent of any city’s economic success as measured by per-capita income is explained by the proportion of college graduates. That means that a one percent increase in college degrees in Miami---or 38,000 additional degrees---would result in $4.1 billion annually in additional personal income. There are currently 234,000 Latinos in Miami with some college background who never finished a degree. Therefore, focusing institutional, federal, state, local, and community efforts to empowering just a fraction of those individuals to earn their degrees can make a dramatic difference.

Latino students are more likely to be non-traditional students---enrolled part-time, later in life, and at two-year institutions---and they tend to enroll where they live, so initiatives that focus on those students can make a big difference. That means colleges and universities should focus on policies that increase retention for working students in good standing, increase early college high schools and dual enrollment programs, and guarantee need-based aid for qualified students. For example, to increase student retention, the Universidad de Sagrado Corazón offers main courses online as a backup system for students in good academic standing with unexpected work schedule changes during a semester. The University of Texas-El Paso Promise Plan covers all tuition and mandatory fees for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less who are Texas residents, complete 30 credits a year, and earn a grade point average of 2.0 or higher.

The Federal government has focused historically on college access and opportunity through financial aid (Pell Grants and Stafford Loans) and support programs (e.g., GEAR Up and TRIO). However, for America to lead the world in college degrees, the Federal government also to focus on college retention and degree attainment by aligning efforts on work-study program offerings in partnerships with states. Latino undergraduates had the highest average work-study aid award of any racial or ethnic group during the 2007 to 2008 academic year. Campus-based work-study programs allow students to work and earn income while enrolled and provide financial support beyond tuition and fees, resulting in improved retention to graduation.

At the state level, leaders must simplify the transfer pathway between two-year and four-year colleges, make college accessible and affordable for students of all economic backgrounds, and ensure state higher education leaders specifically address strategies to expand college completion among underrepresented groups. For example, In California, students who successfully complete 60 units of transferrable coursework at a community college will receive an associate degree and guaranteed admission with upper division junior standing to a California State University system institution.

While institutional and government policy play critical roles, community leaders must do more to inform parents and family members about the pathway to college and to engage their community in supporting college access and degree attainment. For example, Univision developed a multi-platform education campaign, Es el momento (This is the moment) targeting Spanish-speaking parents and families about the U.S. educational pipeline.

These are examples of how the Roadmap for Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion has begun to inform and transform the conversation about how scarce resources can make the most difference for our community and our country. The data is clear that America’s continued success depends on Latinos, and a particular focus on Latino college completion will lead us to a stronger economic future not only for Latinos, but for all Americans.

Sarita E. Brown and Deborah A. Santiago are co-founders of Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. For more information visit: