2020 Programs to Watch


During the annual Examples of Excelencia review and selection process, Excelencia staff identifies innovative and/or up-and-coming programs that are making a positive impact on the success of their Latino students–– Programs to Watch. Amid challenging times for higher education, this year’s Programs to Watch represent 17 programs across 9 states that are ensuring Latino student success and are continuing to grow their evidence of effectiveness.

Excelencia invites you to learn more about their efforts by reviewing brief summaries of the programs below and exploring their website.

Learn about the 2020 Examples of Excelencia Finalists and their efforts to accelerate Latino student success.

Find evidence-based programs across the country in the Growing What Works database.


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Associate Level: Engage to Retain

Among the 2020 Programs to Watch at the associate level are programs that innovate how they engage students to increase retention. They deploy practices including embedded advising, financial education and support, and individualized planning to accomplish increases in enrollment, retention and graduation for Latino students.


ELLAS (Encouraging Latinas to Lead, Achieve and Succeed)

Tarrant County College-Southeast, Arlington, Texas
Year started: 2017
No website available

ELLAS provides support to Latina students at Tarrant County College-Southeast to help them overcome academic challenges, develop leadership skills, enhance self-esteem, acquire communication skills, and serve the community. Programming is based on its four pillars––leadership, service, identity, and empowerment––which were first identified through a qualitative study conducted at the program’s beginnings to determine student need. Culturally relevant workshops, events, annual conferences, and services offered in partnership around these four pillars provide an intentional connection to students and support the program’s growth and relationships with other leadership development programs on campus. 100% of program participants have earned their associate degree and transferred to a four-year college. Participants are poised to exceed the 60% graduation rate for Latina, non-participant peers.



The Hancock Promise

Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria, California
Year started: 2018


The Hancock Promise is nurturing a college-going culture by engaging elementary-aged Latino students and staying with them through postsecondary enrollment. Promise provides a unique, four-phased approach: 1) The Bulldog Bound program brings grades 5-8 to campus to explore college and career options through fun, hands-on programming, 2) Path to Promise leverages on-site programs in district high schools to educate students about college entry, 3) Hancock Promise covers first year college costs for every full-time student with a newly granted high school equivalency, and 4) Extended Promise guides every Hancock College student with course sequencing and counseling support. Over 60% of local district high school graduates are attending Hancock College post-high school graduation. Additionally, 67% of Hancock Promise students persist over their non-Promise peers (who persist at a 52% rate).



Mesa Community College/Mesa High Schools College Advisor Program

Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona
Year started: 2017

The Mesa Community College/Mesa High Schools College Advisor Program is an innovative partnership formed between Mesa Public Schools (largest district in Arizona) and Mesa Community College (MCC) in collaboration with the City of Mesa. The Program's mission is to provide a one-stop enrollment experience at each high school site to help students enroll at MCC, ensure a seamless student transition to MCC, increase dual enrollment, create a college going culture, and build relationships with students, faculty, and administrators. Since 2017, MCC has seen a 24% increase in recent Mesa Public Schools (MPS) high school graduates enrolling in MCC. Based on feedback from students, over 90% of the program's college advisors placed in students’ high schools were agreed to be approachable, knowledgeable and connected them to resources.



Student Money Management Office

Austin Community College, Austin, Texas
Year started: 2016

The mission of the Student Money Management Office (SMMO) is to support student success by providing accessible and relevant money management education, enabling students to make informed financial decisions. Through SMMO, Austin Community College is preparing students to graduate with minimal student debt and enter the workforce equipped to manage their income, save, and build assets. The program’s Rainy Day Savings Program, which incentivizes students to accumulate $500 in a savings account for use in a financial emergency, had 95 student savers in its first cohort during Fall 2018. The fall-to-fall retention rates of students in this cohort was 81% for Hispanic students, exceeding the 60% retention rate of the entire cohort.



Transfer Resources Department

Austin Community College, Austin, Texas
Year started: 2017

The mission of the Transfer Resources Department is to provide strategic guidance, resources and programs to help students develop personal transfer plans that lead to a successful transfer. The Department was created in 2017 in response to a new strategic plan that highlighted transfer success. Services include: the provision of resources to supplement work on course selection and eliminate loss of completed credit; one-on-one appointments for transfer exploration, application review, and personalized transfer plan development; workshops for faculty, staff, and students to assist their understanding of the transfer process; classroom presentations about transfer fundamentals; supporting co-enrollment programs; and connecting Austin Community College with universities to optimize student transfer opportunities. Participants show a higher rate of transfer per National Student Clearinghouse data: the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reports a 20% transfer rate for 2015-16 Austin Community College students, while 46% of students who participated in the Transfer Resources Department’s Transfer Academy that year transferred within 3 years. In 2019-20, the program’s workshops reached more than 6 times the number of students reached in 2015-16.



Baccalaureate Level: Tailored Student Supports

The 2020 Programs to Watch at the baccalaureate level are creating tailored supports or services for students who may have challenges accessing or succeeding in higher education. Their innovation is providing high-impact practices to students who often do not receive them.


Dreamer’s Pathway Scholarship

University of Nebraska Omaha, Nebraska
Year started: 2016

The Dreamer’s Pathway Scholarship is a program for students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients, or residents that have graduated from a Nebraska high school and are seeking an undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Students who qualify through a competitive application process are eligible to receive renewable tuition, housing, fees, and scholarship for books for up to five years, or until an undergraduate degree is earned, whichever comes first. The 2019 retention rate for program participants (first to second year re-enrollment) is 100%, in comparison to 73% for all Latino students on campus, and 75% for the entire campus. In the program's first three years of existence, 95% of all participants have graduated college. This compares to a campus-wide, four-year graduation rate of 50%.



Latinx Assessing Their Intellect through Networking & Exchange (L.A.T.I.N.X)

Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
Year started: 2017

L.A.T.I.N.X empowers students by creating opportunities for identity-based professional development. Through this multi-level program, students explore their Latinx identity in the context of developing skills and attributes of professionalism. L.A.T.I.N.X. emphasizes cultural agility and identity leadership in professional environments while focusing on well-being/self-care, imposter syndrome, resilience, and communicating across difference. As a result, students have received scholarships, co-op opportunities, summer internships, been able to shadow professionals in their work environments, and found mentors. 94% of program participants reported a greater understanding of how to navigate challenges related to identity in the workplace. The same percentage also felt that participating in this program increased their knowledge of professional development strategies to amplify their preparation and motivation for career success.



Outreach Leadership Institute (OLI)

Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H, Corvallis, Oregon
Year started: 2000

The 4-H Outreach Leadership Institute (OLI) is a series of four overnight-weekend events that include hands-on educational activities, discussions with college students, and professional role models from different cultural backgrounds. The goal of these events is for high school students to develop knowledge about the post-secondary educational system, advancing OLI's mission of increasing access to higher education for Latino students. 100% of OLI's participants have graduated high school, compared to Oregon’s 2017 average high school graduation rate of 77%. OLI has achieved a 95% college graduation rate for students attending a 2 or 4-year college program compared to the 2017 national average college graduation rate of 60%.



Professional Improvement through Optimization of Native-language Education and the Realization of Academic/familial Symbiosis (PIONERAS)

Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas
Year started: 2017

The mission of the PIONERAS program is to improve the bilingual education practices and second language acquisition of aspiring dual language teachers and in-service teachers. The program intentionally seeks to enroll Latinos through recruitment and holding of all courses and extracurricular activities in Spanish. PIONERAS participants are fully funded; receiving a high-quality and culturally relevant education through university coursework, a study abroad program, a graduate degree, and collaborative mentorship between undergraduate and graduate students. Currently, 96% of graduate student participants are Latinos with an average 4.0 GPA. Undergraduate program participants have earned a 3.88 GPA.



Resilience & Retention Advising Program

University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
Year started: 2017

The Resilience and Retention (R&R) Advising Program’s goal is to help students succeed and increase retention rates for high-risk students who were academically dismissed or denied admission into the major of their choice. R&R academic advisors provide a concierge-level of service for students, communicating with 100% of their caseload to help students find their path to degree completion. This high level of proactive interaction is achievable due to small caseloads per advisor. Trained in all 67 degree offerings, the program weaves financial impact discussions with information about career knowledge and skills that can be gained from any degree, moving from a transactional to a transformational approach. This allows students to graduate in a timely manner while gaining self-authorship. Among R&R participants, 26% of Hispanic students have graduated or have an active graduation application on file, compared to 19% non-Hispanic R&R students.



STEM Leaders Program

Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
Year started: 2014

The STEM Leaders Program (SLP) was designed to improve the success, retention and persistence to graduation of underrepresented minority students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. There are four main program components: 1) participation in a faculty-mentored undergraduate research experience, 2) regular meetings with a peer mentor, 3) participation in a series of professional development workshops, and 4) participation in an orientation course designed to prepare students to engage in research. Students participating in SLP consistently have higher rates of first-year retention and four-year graduation rate when compared to OSU students, OSU Latinx students, and OSU Latinx in STEM students. The four-year graduation rates for STEM Leaders Cohorts 1 and 2 were 33% and 40%, respectively, compared to a four-year graduation rate of 26% and 17% for all Latinx OSU students and Latinx OSU STEM students, respectively.



Student Success Workshops

California State University Channel Islands, Camarillo, CA
Year started: 2017

In the Spring of 2017, California State University, Channel Islands’ Sociology Program partnered with Academic Advising to create the Student Success Workshops, mandatory for all students who earn D/F grades in Sociology classes, are on probation, disqualified, or reinstated. Semester workshops focus on academic skill-building (e.g. identifying and overcoming academic challenges, building foundational study skills like note-taking, focused reading, and time management), and institutional navigation (identifying campus resources, accessing faculty, and tracking progress to graduation). Following the workshops, students develop and submit a Student Success Action Plan, requiring them to map out specific tangible steps to ensure academic success. Workshop participants are more likely to be retained or graduate compared to students who qualify for the workshops but do not participate. In AY 2018-19, 72% of Latinx participants persisted compared to 15% of Latinx non-participants. Beyond retention, program participants show improvement in other indicators of academic success. For example, prior to the workshops, participants had an average cumulative campus GPA of 2.16. This improved to 2.43 after participating in the workshops. For Latinx participants, their cumulative campus GPA improved from 2.16 to 2.46. Non-participants did not experience similar GPA improvements. Additionally, workshop participants earned far fewer failing grades and were more likely to be in good academic standing after participating in the workshops.




Community-Based Organizations: Creating a College-Going Culture

Community-Based Organizations may be a Latino student’s first introduction to higher education. The 2020 Programs to Watch in this year’s Examples of Excelencia CBO category share how they create college-going cultures in their communities. The CBOs outlined here are seeing an emerging population of Latino students and the need to provide authentic exposure opportunities for students and their families.

Al Éxito University

Al Éxito, Des Moines, Iowa
Year started: 2017

Al Éxito (AÉ) is Iowa’s only statewide organization dedicated solely to advancing the educational achievement and transformative leadership capacity of Latinx youth and families. Al Éxito University (AÉU) is a free, high school summer residential intensive, college preparatory camp offered by Al Éxito that creates a space on campus to better prepare Latinx students for postsecondary success. AÉU focuses on the unique needs of the Latinx population including rural/urban youth. AÉU’s structure replicates postsecondary processes in the program's application, class registration, and extra-curricular offerings. Classes are intentionally designed to best prepare Latinx students for skills needed to persist in college. AÉU has seen an 39% increase in students who understood the financial obligations to pay for college and a 36% increase in students confident that they had the skills to be successful on a college campus.



Emerging Leaders Program

Edu-Futuro, Arlington, Virginia
Year started: 2006

The mission of Edu-Futuro is to break the cycle of poverty by empowering immigrant, underserved youth and families through mentorship, education, leadership development, and parental engagement. Edu-Futuro helps low-income students reach for a postsecondary education through their Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), which provides bilingual support for students in partnership with Arlington and Fairfax County Public Schools through four integrated steps from elementary school to high school. Program offerings including an afterschool STEM Robotics Club (Grades 3-8), college readiness workshops, and mentorship in high school. Since ELP Level II started in 2013, 97% of program graduates have been accepted to college, 96% of which were Latino students. In 2019, graduates were collectively offered over $2.4 million in financial aid and scholarships for their first year of college, with much of it renewable for a projected four-year total of over $5.1 million.



Esperanza Postsecondary Support Program

Esperanza, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio
Year started: 2016

Esperanza, Inc., established in 1983, is a culturally appropriate education and socio-economic support system for Cleveland’s Hispanic population. The Postsecondary Support Program was started in 2017 using Unidos US' Lideres Avanzando curriculum to support the needs of the Hispanic student population. Students take part in cooperative/interactive learning activities, monthly workshops, and events on topics relevant to the Hispanic and/or first-generation college-going experience. Students also earn a stipend for program completion, which encourages uninterrupted participation and offers added financial resources. Further, students can be assigned a volunteer mentor for added support. Of the program’s oldest Lideres cohort, 40% have graduated within 4 years, and 30% are still enrolled. In comparison, nationally, only 41% of college students graduate in 4 years, and only 32% of Latino college students graduate in 4 years (NCES).



Junior Jaguar Leadership Conference

South Texas College, McAllen, Texas
Year started: 2013
No website available

The Junior Jaguar Leadership Conference is based on the idea that “college begins in kindergarten,” and every student has the opportunity to go to college. The Leadership Conference commissions elementary school students as Junior Ambassadors to Higher Education so that they can share what they learn with their family, friends, community, and school. The program looks to impact Latino families by encouraging college conversation in the home. Parents are invited to attend and learn financial literacy to help in preparing for college and their own lives. Marketable skills are also taught to parents. In seven years, the program has expanded to 10 elementary schools and over 700 students have been commissioned as Junior Ambassadors. With three cohorts in high school, 49% of the most recent cohort participated in high school dual enrollment courses.



Mente Summit

Mente, Beaverton, Oregon
Year started: 2016

Higher education attainment for Latinx males is at the center of Mente’s mission, spearheading efforts with goals to address the educational inequities faced by Latinx males from Oregon pursuing a trade career or college degree. In its fifth year of existence, Mente hosts the only gender and culturally-specific Latinx male conference in the Pacific Northwest. The Mente Summit draws nearly 500 Latinx males from 45 urban and rural high schools, community colleges, public, and private Oregon universities. Mente considers student voices as part of a continued cycle of improvement. The 2020 Summit exit survey showed that over 90% of males found the workshops/speakers engaging and would recommend the Summit to other students.