GVSU commitment to Latino student success transfers successfully to other populations

Grand Valley remains the only predominantly white institution to have earned Excelencia in Education's Seal of Excelencia, recognizing the university's commitment to Latino student success.

A co-founder of that Washington, D.C.-based organization visited campus March 13 and said Grand Valley was unknown to her and other Excelencia colleagues until they read a 2019 application stating the university's intention and goals to serve Latino students.

"Grand Valley was nowhere on our radar in Washington, D.C.," said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education. "What we discovered through that written piece was intriguing. It told the story of how the university had made a commitment to intentionally serve Latino students."

Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, speaks from a podium
Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, addresses a Student Success Series audience in the Kirkhof Center March 13.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

Last September, Grand Valley's Seal of Excelencia was recertified. Institutions are certified by Excelencia in Education for three years and can choose to apply for recertification. 

Santiago gave a presentation in the Kirkhof Center as part of the Student Success Series, a yearlong series of professional development events hosted by the Division of Enrollment Development and Educational Outcomes. She outlined the framework and best practices used by Grand Valley and other institutions to serve students.

Santiago said institutions need a three-pronged approach to elevate student success: data, practice and leadership. Each area must show positive momentum in terms of enrollment, retention, graduation and faculty/staff retention.

Latino student enrollment at Grand Valley in 2013 was 4.1 percent. Last year, it was 6.7 percent. The six-year graduation rate for GVSU Latino students (61 percent) is higher than that rate for all other Michigan public universities. Last year, 4.3 percent of GVSU faculty and staff identified as Latino, compared to 2.7 percent in 2013.

women seated at table, one person at right holds microphone to speak
Audience members discuss the support and resources available for students during the workshop.
Amanda Pitts
Donta Truss stands at a podium smiling to audience.
B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, introduces Deborah Santiago at the Student Success Series workshop.
Amanda Pitts

In late February, Santiago met virtually with Grand Valley faculty and staff members who serve as Strategic Enrollment Management Plan team members. During that meeting, Jesse Bernal, chief of staff to the president and vice president for Inclusion and Equity, said the tactics implemented for Latino student success more than a decade ago have successfully transferred to serve other student populations. Laker Familia is an example. Originally designed as an orientation program for Latino students in 2014, it quickly evolved into year-round programming. All affinity groups now have similar programming under the Laker Connections umbrella.

Bernal noted the rise in population of Latino/Hispanic residents in Michigan in the early 2000s that prompted Grand Valley to create a Latino Student Success Task Force. "If we are not serving the Latino population in a meaningful way in Michigan, the state is going to be challenged economically," Bernal said. 

The next Student Success Series will be Tuesday, March 21, 2-4 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room. "Call to Collective Action" will focus on current efforts to elevate student outcomes. RSVP for the event online.