Examples of Excelencia Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Latino Promise and HACER Programs

Hispanic Community November 2023 PREMIUM

What works for Latino students on their journey to and through college? 

People across the country are implementing programs that improve Latino student success in higher education with intentionality and impact. Since 2005, Excelencia in Education has recognized over 400 of these programs through Examples of Excelencia — the only national effort to identify and promote evidence-based practices accelerating Latino student success at the associate, baccalaureate, graduate, and community-based organization levels. Given the number and quality of programs we have recognized, there is no excuse for inaction in serving our community. 

Among the programs recognized are the Latino Promise and HACER programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University. With their evidence of effectiveness and culturally responsive practices, the Latino Promise and HACER programs demonstrate to colleges and universities around the nation what can be done to meet the strengths and needs of Latino students. Together, these programs and others like them form a community of common cause, showing how to intentionally serve Latino students while serving all. 

Latino Promise and HACER Programs 

Latino Promise and HACER are sister programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in Teaneck, New Jersey, that increase access to higher education by offering associate degree programs with the benefits of a university setting to traditional-aged, Latino students who may not be directly admissible to a bachelor’s program. Excelencia recognized the Latino Promise/HACER programs as the 2022 Example of Excelencia at the associate level. The programs are housed in the Hispanic Center at FDU. 

FDU has grown into the largest private university in New Jersey, enrolling over 11,000 students across two campuses. As the institution has grown, it has not forgotten its junior college roots and continues to offer associate degrees alongside baccalaureate and graduate studies. This infrastructure allowed FDU  to launch its Latino Promise/HACER programs. 

The university first created this post-secondary opportunity in its College of Continuing Education out of recognition of low college-going rates among Latino high school students in the area. Established in 2007, upon admission, all Latino Promise students receive an annually renewable $11,500 Latino Promise grant toward their full-time studies. Upon completing their 60-credit hour associate degree, they receive guaranteed admission to continue with a bachelor’s degree and with potential for similar funding. To support their completion, Latino Promise provides students with a pre-college summer program, bilingual financial aid workshops for students and parents, a transition specialist to guide them through the admissions process, as well as small classes, dedicated faculty and staff (many of whom are bilingual) for personalized academic advisement and support, financial grants, leadership training, and cultural enrichment — all experiences that build belonging and academic success for local Latino high school students who may not have pursued college. 

As FDU continued to serve its Latino students, it recognized that its English proficiency requirement excluded applicants still learning English. Using the same curriculum as Latino Promise, HACER (which is not only the verb “to do” in Spanish, but also forms the acronym “Hispanics Achieving College Education Recognition” in English) launched in 2015. Students in HACER strengthen their own native Spanish skills as they continue to learn English and transition from bi-lingual to English-only coursework. 

Excelencia looks for intentionality in serving Latino students when selecting the Examples of Excelencia, no small part of which is the ability to meet students where they are. An awareness of their students’ needs, as well as strategic efforts to leverage that awareness in designing and redesigning programming that widens the door to their institution, run through the Latino Promise/HACER story. 

Alongside intentionality, another key element  in the Examples of Excelencia review process is impact, best measured with disaggregated data for Latino students, among all students a program serves, that demonstrate evidence of effectiveness in improving student outcomes. Key data points from Latino Promise and HACER include: 

• The average graduation rate for Latino Promise since 2010 is 40% — more than double the average graduation rate for Latino students in associate programs at New Jersey two-year institutions (18%). 

• The average graduation rate for HACER students is 25% (2019-2022 anticipated), which is also above the state average. 

• The average time to an associate degree for Latino Promise students is 2.19 years (2012-2021). For the HACER cohort, it is 2.13 years (2018-2021). 

• The persistence rate for Latino Promise students from fall to spring over the past three years is 93%. 

Latino Promise/HACER’s efforts to intentionally serve Latino students and evidence of effectiveness make clear why they were chosen for the Examples of Excelencia. And the programs’ positive results have fueled momentum for FDU to continue scaling services. What began as a single site at the university’s Metropolitan Campus has evolved into a new Hispanic Center offering two additional programs. The Center welcomed its inaugural executive director focused on Latino community outreach in the summer of 2022, before launching the Latino Promise program at FDU’s second New Jersey campus last fall. 

The work of identifying, aggregating, and promoting evidence-based practices continues for Excelencia. The organization has raised and awarded over $2 million to sustain the life-changing work of programs like Latino Promise and HACER since 2005. It also maintains the Growing What Works Database (GWWD) — the only national, searchable database for institutional leaders, funders, policymakers, and others interested in effective programs for Latino students. 

Investment in programs across the country that make a positive difference in the lives of Latino students reinforces what is possible and expands opportunities for these students within higher education. In turn, Latino students are empowered to contribute their talents to our country’s civic leadership and workforce, ensuring America’s bright future. 

To learn more about Excelencia in Education and its work with programs, visit: 

To learn more about Latino Promise and HACER, visit: 

About the authors:

Deborah Santiago is the Co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education. She has led research and advanced evidence-based practices and strategies to accelerate Latino student success for over 20 years. She has held leadership positions around the country, and is often cited in media on issues related to student success. 

Adriana Rodriguez is the Vice President for Programs at Excelencia in Education. She leads the strategic direction and operations of the Programs team to ensure high-quality implementation of two major portfolios (Examples of Excelencia and Seal of Excelencia certification). Adriana has 20 years of experience in the non-profit education sector. 


Share with:

Product information

Post a Job

Post a job in higher education?

Place your job ad in our classified page on the HO print & digital Edition