College of Education Awarded Grants to Boost College Engagement and Graduation Rates of Latinos August 28, 2013

Dr. Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement

The Kresge Foundation and the Greater Texas Foundation have awarded The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) two grants totaling $437,000 to develop strategies for improving Latino student engagement, transfer and college completion rates.

The CCCSE is partnering with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) at Indiana University, Bloomington, and Washington, D.C., nonprofit Excelencia in Education to work on the project, which is called “Engaging Latino Students for Transfer and College Completion.”

Data show that although Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the nation, only about 60 percent of that population is graduating from high school, compared with 90 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 81 percent of black students. The achievement gap extends into postsecondary education, with 31 percent of white, 18 percent of black and 13 percent of Latino adults reporting that they have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

For Latino students who do attend community colleges, the segue to four-year universities has been challenging. Data show that, although more than 70 percent of Latinos express a desire to transfer from two-year to four-year institutions, only 7 to 20 percent actually do.

“Right now, the most rapidly expanding populations in the U.S. are those minority groups with the lowest levels of education attainment,” said Kay McClenney, CCCSE director. “It’s critical that we address this achievement gap issue because, in the international arena, the U.S. continues to experience a decline in relative education attainment. That decline can’t be reversed unless we attend to longstanding economic, racial and ethnic inequities in education outcomes.”

The high costs associated with failing to assist Latino students, in particular, will include reduced workforce competitiveness, continuing decline of the middle class and an exacerbation of social disparities, said McClenney.

Grant partners will examine large data sets from recent CCCSE and NSSE student engagement surveys to analyze Latino students’ experiences at community colleges and four-year universities. Using this information, they will design and conduct a 2 ½-day Latino Student Engagement Institute that aims to improve engagement, transfer and college completion of Latino students. 

“We will be inviting five-person teams from 11 four-year universities and 11 community colleges to participate in the institute,” said McClenney. “We want to include pairs of institutions that serve the same urban areas, and we’re focusing primarily on schools in Michigan, California and Texas because they have large urban areas and rapidly-growing Latino populations.”

During the institute, participating colleges and universities will create concrete action plans that describe how their policies, programs and practices will improve Latino students’ engagement and academic outcomes, and grant partners will monitor and support implementation of the action plans post-institute.

The CCCSE, which is in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration, has surveyed close to 2 million students at 869 community colleges in 50 states and the District of Columbia and has conducted focus groups since 2003 in community colleges across the United States. Beyond data-gathering, the CCCSE and its partners have a common mission of sharing evidence-based, high-impact practices with colleges and universities and helping them use data to target and monitor improvements in programs and services for students.

Last updated on August 30, 2013