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Puente Project Improves Latino Student Outcomes in California

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The California-based Puente Project has worked to bridge the gaps between Latino youth and college enrollment since 1981. The program’s goal is to increase the number of Latinos graduating from four-year colleges, and then to urge those graduates to return to their communities and give back as mentors.

The program’s success was highlighted in a webinar Thursday hosted by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center discussing college readiness programs for young men of color. The discussion was the third in a series discussing the challenges young men face.

Counseling, mentoring and teaching are the three main components of the organization. The program trains high school and community college educators to work with students and guide them toward transferring to four-year colleges. Students have the same counselor consistently through their high school career and then again in community college.

Once enrolled in community college, they take a class together on Latino and multicultural literature. ”The shared experience gives them buy-in into the program,” Puente program trainer and coordinator Martin De Mucha Flores said during the webinar. “They become critical thinkers.”

De Mucha Flores speaks from personal experience: He was a Puente program student himself.

The project’s work addresses solving a significant problem in California– the poor transfer rates of Latino, black and low-income students from community colleges to universities. Earlier this year, The Civil Rights Project at UCLA noted that just 20 percent of transfer students in 2010 were Latino or black.

The program serves thousands of students, and operates at 61 community colleges and 34 high schools in California. This year, it opened sites at South Texas community colleges in El Paso, McAllen and San Antonio.

The Puente Project was also recently highlighted as a successful program with young men in a policy brief appearing in Perspectives: Issues in Higher Education Policy and Practice. The policy advocacy group Excelencia in Education also named the group as one that’s successfully working to improve Latino graduation rates.

“We’re a tried-and-true program,” said De Mucha Flores, who noted that academic journals have vetted and proved that the model works.