North Texas Daily

University joins Excelencia Education network to improve Latino student success

University joins Excelencia Education network to improve Latino student success

University joins Excelencia Education network to improve Latino student success
October 14
08:00 2022

The university is now a member of Presidents for Latino Student Success, a network created by Excelencia in Education to facilitate Latino student success in higher education, according to a press release.

Three months ago, the university became a founding member of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, a group focused on increasing opportunities for minority students in higher education.

“I am incredibly proud to be a part of Presidents for Latino Student Success,” university President Neal Smatresk said in the press release. “Being a part of this network gives us access to powerful data, resources and actionable policies and practices to strengthen our student services and opportunities.”

Smatresk said being “more intentional” in serving the university’s Hispanic and Latino students will benefit the entire community.

The university began the process of joining PLSS during the summer, university Provost Michael McPherson said. Like every other president and chancellor, Smatresk was interviewed by Sarita Brown, the co-founder and current president of Excelencia.

The university plans to continue to grow its relationship with Excelencia, including pursuing the Seal of Excelencia, a certification that recognizes colleges and universities for intentionally serving Latino students.

The distinction is held by only 30 other institutions in the Excelencia framework. 

“Our goal is to serve our community better by learning from and contributing to a group that pursues evidence-based best practices in the areas of data, practice, and leadership,” McPherson said in an email to the North Texas Daily. “We need to assess our data capabilities and practices in areas such as enrollment, retention, financial support, and degree completion of Latino students, as well as consider representation of Latinos in our staff, faculty, and campus leadership.”

The university has more than 20 organizations and various programs dedicated to Hispanic and Latino students.

McPherson said these programs led to thousands of Hispanic students engaging with the Learning Center, University Program Council, Student Activities Center and Multicultural Center in the 2021-2022 academic year. Nevertheless, McPherson recognizes there is still room for improvement.

“We want our faculty to more closely mirror our student body,” McPherson said. “This will be the work of many years, but we are continuing to approach this task with intentionality.”

Over the last six years, the graduation rate of Latino students at the university rose from 52.4 percent in 2016 to 60.3 percent in 2021, which is slightly higher than the current national average of 59 percent, the provost said.

Through the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, the university aspires to double the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled and increasing the Hispanic professoriate by 20 percent by the year 2030.

“[Excelencia] isn’t an organization where presidents and chancellors just come and check the box — this is real work,” said Jennifer Gomez-Chavez, the vice president for institutional engagement at Excelencia. “This is work where presidents and chancellors want to transform their institutions.”

Excelencia was created in 2004 by Brown and Deborah Santiago. The two met while working for the federal government, where they noticed issues concerning Title V, a program that offers grants to Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

“They discovered that just because institutions were considered [HSIs] based on demographics didn’t mean that they were truly serving Hispanic students,” Gomez-Chavez said. “It’s not just about enrolling students. It’s about helping students through their educational journey to completion.”

PLSS was created in 2014 with a more centralized focus on creating environments for Latino students to thrive. Smatresk is among 156 presidents and chancellors from around the nation that joined the network to intentionally serve Latino students.

“Our goal is to get to 200 because we see how the enrollment of Latino students in higher education across the country continues to increase,” Gomez-Chavez said. “So we want to ensure that institutions where Latino students are attending, which is pretty much everywhere, are not just beginning to think but actually have frameworks in place.”

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Ismael M. Belkoura

Ismael M. Belkoura

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