Conexión Américas’ College Success Program One of Only Four Higher Education Programs in U.S. to Receive National Recognition for Evidence-Based Impact with Latino Students

NASHVILLE, TN (October 28, 2021) –  Excelencia in Education, the nation’s premier authority on efforts accelerating Latino student success in higher education, announced today that Conexión Américas’ College Success Program was selected as the 2021 Example of Excelencia for the Community-Based Organization category. It is one of only four evidence-based programs in the country recognized by the respected organization during its annual Celebración de Excelencia event in Washington, D.C. today.

The four stand out programs are models of culturally responsive, asset-based efforts with evidence of effectiveness in recruiting, retaining, graduating, and preparing Latino students for success in the workforce that others can learn from to more intentionally serve their students. 

Examples of Excelencia is the only national effort to identify, aggregate and promote evidence-based practices improving Latino student success in higher education. As higher education institutions continue to pivot during these unprecedented times, these programs are a powerful example of what can work for Latino students while serving all.

“These evidence-based practices prove that transformation in higher education with an explicit focus on the students we serve is possible,” said Deborah Santiago, Co-founder and CEO, Excelencia in Education. “We need to invest in what works if we are committed to student success.”

Sarita Brown, Co-founder and President, Excelencia in Education, added, “Excelencia brings positive attention to people and programs making a positive impact for our Latino students. Examples of Excelencia inspires leaders to implement innovations that can serve all students.” 

Conexión Américas’ College Success Program supports first-generation immigrant and refugee students in Nashville as they complete college and impact their families’ long-term success. Its primary goal is to equip first-generation Latino college students to persist in and graduate from college with career readiness. The Program increases students’ knowledge and confidence in applying to college, connects students with enriching career exploration opportunities, and builds more understanding and capacity throughout Tennessee about the specific needs and challenges of immigrant students, particularly undocumented students and DACA students. 

A continuation of Conexión Américas’ Escalera College Access program located at three high schools in Southeast Nashville, the College Success Program sees a higher than national persistence rate among Latinos who enrolled in college as a first-time undergraduate. According to the National Student Clearinghouse 2020 Persistence and Retention Report, among the Latinos who enrolled in college as a first-time undergraduate student in fall 2018, 72% persisted at any U.S. Institution. In Conexión Américas’ College Success Program, the persistence rate for Latino students who first entered post secondary education in 2018 was 80%. 

As a first-generation student, the College Success Program was a cornerstone of my college journey,” said Elizabeth Narváez-Vega, a graduate of Belmont University and a member of the first alumni class of Conexión Américas’ College Success Program. Elizabeth participated in the Escalera College Access program as a high school student at Glencliff High School, the same school site where she now works as Conexión Américas’ Escalera College Access Coordinator.  

“Getting into college is one thing, but navigating school as the first person in your family to do so is a whole different ball game. The intentional support system of the College Success program makes finding resources much more manageable. Knowing that there is someone who understands your struggles as a first-generation student creates a safe space to ask questions, seek guidance, and connect to the community,” she added. 

This year, Excelencia received 145 program submissions representing 23 states and Puerto Rico. The four 2021 Examples were among 21 finalists that are now featured online on Excelencia’s Growing What Works Database – the only national online, searchable database for institutional leaders, funders, and policymakers interested in identifying what works for Latino students. Program descriptions of this year’s finalists are in a compendium that can be viewed and downloaded for free here: 2021 What Works for Latino Students in Higher Education.

Examples of Excelencia begins annually with a national call for nominations from the public to share initiatives accelerating Latino student success in higher education. Excelencia reviews all nominations, and using rigorous criteria, identifies finalists in each of four categories—associate, baccalaureate, graduate, and community-based organizations. A national selection committee composed of higher education leaders, grant makers, and stakeholders then selects the four Examples of Excelencia based on the programs’ innovative, intentional, culturally relevant, and effective high-impact practices.


About Excelencia in Education
Excelencia in Education accelerates Latino student success in higher education by promoting Latino student achievement, conducting analysis to inform educational policies, and advancing institutional practices while collaborating with those committed and ready to meet the mission. Launched in 2004 in the nation’s capital, Excelencia has established a network of results-oriented educators and policymakers to address the U.S. economy’s needs for a highly educated workforce and engaged civic leaders. For more information, visit:

About Examples of Excelencia

Examples of Excelencia expands on the legacy of work first began in 1999 by its two visionary leaders, Deborah Santiago and Sarita Brown. Since 2005, Excelencia in Education has received over 1,800 program submissions; recognized over 350 programs for their impact in accelerating Latino student success; and raised and awarded over $2 million to the programs making a difference for Latino students to support their sustainability and expansion.

About Conexión Américas

Conexión Américas is a Nashville-based nonprofit organization established in 2002. Our mission is to build a welcoming community and create opportunities where Latino families can belong, contribute and succeed. Every year, we assist more than 9,000 individuals and their families in their desire to start businesses, improve their English, help their children succeed in school and go to college, and become an integral part of Nashville’s social, cultural and economic vitality. Conexión Américas is the lead partner of Casa Azafrán, a nonprofit collaborative at the gateway to Nashville’s International District that is home to Conexión Américas and nine partners.