Collaboration key to Latino education effort

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation. I am working with the Foundation as senior communications adviser.]

RALEIGH, N.C. — A big challenge the Triangle faces is to help more Latino students get into and complete college.

A pioneering effort to address that challenge is a public-private collaboration developed by Hispanics In Philanthropy, or HIP.

With funding from the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, HIP has teamed up with a broad mix of partners and funders that are working to support Latino students and their families in Wake, Durham and Johnston counties.

The effort underscores the vital importance of collaboration to address some of society’s most urgent problems.

Systems change

Althea Gonzalez, Asheville-based North Carolina program manager for Oakland, Calif.-based HIP, says the Triangle effort is not just about serving 400 students over the four-year life of the project, but also about trying to “change the systems” that affect those students.

And making “lasting change,” she says, requires “multi-level, multi-sector, multi-stakeholders.”

That is the theory behind an approach to change, known as “collective impact,” that is championed by the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

“Large-scale social change,” the publication says, “requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.”

Complex problem

The Latino student success initiative spearheaded by HIP reflects a broad-based effort to tackle a truly complex problem.

By 2025, half the U.S. workforce, or over 50 million workers, is expected to be of Latino descent, and 63 percent of U.S. jobs are expected to require some form of post-secondary education or training, according to the Lumina Foundation.

Yet in Wake, Durham and Johnston counties, Latinos are graduating from high school at lower rates than they are throughout North Carolina.

And for those Latino students who do graduate and get to college, the preparation they receive in middle school and high school can have a big impact on whether they complete college.

“As the largest and fastest growing segment of the the U.S. population, it’s clear Latinos represent America’s future,” says Susan Johnson, a strategy officer at the Lumina Foundation, which has set an overall goal of increasing the share of Americans with an education credential or degree to 60 percent by 2025 from 40 percent now.

“To even approach the idea of 60 percent, we need to take into account the post-secondary education of Latinos in America,” Johnson says.

Gonzalez says the need to address the issue is critical.

“This is not just the right thing or moral thing to do,” she says, “but it is an economic imperative for North Carolina to get all our kids of color, with Latinos as the expanding population, to get their graduation rates to improve.”

The strategy

The Triangle project has been funded with a $600,000, four-year grant to HIP from the Lumina Foundation that HIP must match by raising another $200,000.

The local partnership is one of 13 projects in 11 states funded through a four-year, $11.5 million Lumina Foundation initiative that aim to boost education success for Latino students beyond high school.

HIP designed the local project in partnership with the Adelante Education Coalition, a broad-based statewide network  that focuses on Latino education issues and policies from kindergarten through higher education.

To deliver the project programs, HIP has developed a collaboration of Triangle organizations that are working with Latino students and their families in Wake, Durham and Johnston counties to try to improve the rate at which those students complete college.

Partner agencies

In the current school year, three partner agencies are working with a total of 180 students at Millbrook High School in Wake County, Durham Southern High School in Durham County and Smithfield-Selma High School in Johnston County, and in a handful of middle schools in Durham County.

Providing after-school programs and other support are Durham-based Student Action with Farmworkers in Johnston County; El Centro Hispano in Durham; and the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals in Raleigh.

Each after-school partner agency has hired a “success coach” who mentors students and works with them on academic or life challenges they may be facing.

And the Juntos program at North Carolina State University provides classes for parents and families to help them better understand how to prepare their children for college.

While each county program is pursuing its own strategy, success coaches typically spend a total of about three to five hours a week with students.

And after-school activities include academic tutoring; leadership development; support on issues such as self-esteem, character and behavior; and peer learning and support.

The William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at N.C.  State will evaluate the project, including how each county program is working, and then the “best practices” those evaluations find will be incorporated into each program, Gonzalez says.

HIP also has assembled a broad-based Leadership Council that includes representatives of state and local public schools; public and private colleges and universities; state lawmakers; corporations and foundations; and media companies.

Best practices

At a meeting last June, the Leadership Council heard from officials at Georgia State University about remarkable progress the school had made in improving the college completion rate for Latino students.

In 2004, the graduation rate for Latino students at Georgia State trailed that of any other ethnic group.

Seven years later, Latino students at the school were graduating at a higher rate that that of any other ethnic group.

The turnaround reflected, among other things, the use of “interventions” such as structured freshman learning communities for Latino students during their first semesters of college, and a peer-tutoring program through which Latino students who are successful in a course are later hired to tutor students currently taking the course.

It also reflected the use of a “scorecard” that The Goizueta Foundation in Atlanta requires that universities adopt to receive funding.

The scorecard tracked data on Latino students, including their retention rate, the financial aid packages they received, the high schools at which the university recruited students, and the mentoring and tutoring supports the students received.

“That was the first time many of those higher education institutions had ever holistically examined what they were doing,” Gonzalez says.

After hearing from officials from Georgia State about the progress Latino students there have made in completing college, the Council will be talking to provosts and deans at Triangle colleges and universities about identifying best practices on campuses and in public schools, and then looking for ways to help put them into practice.

“The Leadership Council is looking at systemic issues, institutional barriers and how to change systems,” Gonzalez says, “and not just about impacting individual students, but changing the educational pipeline.”

Collaboration matters

The Triangle enjoys a bounty of extraordinary assets and resources: Our region consistently tops national rankings for the best place to live, study and do business.

We are home to world-class universities, companies and thinkers. We benefit from smart jobs, smart workers, affluent and philanthropic residents, and smart social-sector enterprises.

But we also are afflicted with deep and persistent poverty and the full-range of social problems that poverty generates.

Addressing the symptoms and roots of those problems will require the kind of broad-based partnerships that HIP has developed to help Latino students succeed in high school and college.

The road to a better community will be paved through collaboration.

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