Knox College Receives Grant for Innovative Program Committed to Latino Student Success

$50,000 from 'Excelencia in Education' to increase graduation rate of Latina women

September 17, 2009

Knox College has been awarded a $50,000 grant to implement a program to increase the college completion rate of Latina women. The SEMILLAS grant was awarded by Excelencia in Education, a non-profit organization that promotes success by Latinos in higher education. Knox College was one of only twenty colleges and universities -- and the only national liberal arts college -- from across the nation chosen to receive the award.

The new "Knox College Mother-Daughter Program" will develop activities for Latino mother-daughter teams in the Galesburg and Monmouth-Roseville School Districts. The activities are designed to raise awareness of and motivation to complete a college-preparatory curriculum while in high school, to attend college, and ultimately to pursue a career that requires a college degree.

"It is very exciting to see that not only is Knox one of just 20 schools to receive a grant, Knox is the only liberal arts college that was awarded a SEMILLAS grant," said Xavier Romano, vice president for student development and dean of students at Knox. Romano and Tianna Cervantez, a 2006 Knox graduate and director of multicultural student advisement, will direct the program.

"I was not surprised to see that all the other grants went to large state universities and community colleges -- in fact, we modeled our application on two successful initiatives -- one from the University of Texas at El Paso, and the other is our own George Washington Gale Scholars Program that Knox developed with Galesburg School District and Carl Sandburg College," Romano said. "The fact that Knox's application was approved affirms the distinctive culture that we have developed, as a residential liberal arts institution that can also reach out to promote the welfare of our surrounding community."

The Gale Scholars Program is an award-winning cooperative effort that helps selected low income and first-generation college students in Galesburg prepare for and succeed in college. The program provides mentoring, college preparation and counseling, community service, and free tuition college scholarships for up to 15 students each year.

The SEMILLAS grants, supported by the Walmart Foundation, are part of Excelencia in Education's "Growing What Works" national initiative. The initiative aims to accelerate Latino student success by refining and replicating model educational programs that are proven to advance Latino achievement in two-year and four-year colleges. The long-term goal of the project is to increase the use of these effective programs for the country's fast-growing Latino college age population.

Semillas is the Spanish word for seeds. It also stands for Seeding Educational Models that Impact and Leverage Latino Academic Success.

"For 172 years, Knox has been accessible to students regardless of their financial means and regardless of their race," said Roger Taylor, President of Knox College. "The SEMILLAS grant allows us to continue that tradition and give Latina students in Galesburg the opportunity to get a great education."

According to the US Census Bureau, Latino young adults are less likely to have earned an associate degree or higher than other young adults. In 2008, eight percent of Latinos 18 to 24 years-of-age had earned a degree, compared to 14 percent of all young adults. Latino adults, 25 years and over, were also less likely to have earned an associate degree or higher than other adults, with 19 percent of Latinos earning a degree, compared with 29 percent of blacks, 39 percent of whites, and 59 percent of Asians. Meanwhile, census projections estimate that Latinos will be 22 percent of the nation's college-age population by 2020.

"Today's undergraduate population looks very different than it did a generation ago," said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, a non-profit organization that advocates for higher education programs and policies that serve Latino students and families. "All of the institutions selected to receive these grants understand this reality and have actively worked to create a climate on their campuses where Latino students are welcomed as an asset, regardless of their needs. This kind of supportive environment is critical to promoting Latino student success."

Excelencia in Education is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education.

Colleges and universities received grants for work in one of four areas: 1) Helping first-generation, low-income Latino students gain college entrance, 2) Improving retention rates for students enrolled in college, 3) Helping Latino students transfer from two-year to four-year colleges, and 4) Increasing college graduation rates for Latinos.

Excelencia staff and members of the "Growing What Works" initiative will work with the selected institutions throughout the 2009-2010 academic year, and then share their findings.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 47 states and 48 countries. Knox's 'Old Main' is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.