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More Latinos are graduating from college than in years past, but they still lag far behind their white peers: about 32 percent graduate from college in four years compared with 45 percent of white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and the Latino student advocacy group Excelencia in Education have joined forces to introduce an initiative this academic year to shrink this gap by helping working, adult students.

Called the Adult Learner 360 Academy for HSIs, the three-year project will assist 15 Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). The colleges will use a diagnostic tool from the council that collects feedback from students, faculty and staff, and identifies where schools can improve their resources for adult learners. The council will also provide professional development for the participants’ staff members, as well as research that the schools can consult as they change their learning environments.

The University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Florida International University and West Lost Angeles Community College are among the 15. The surveys will be launched by Oct. 15, and the council expects to have results by the end of the year.

There are 492 Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, which are defined as having a Latino student enrollment of at least 25 percent. Next week, many of these schools will take part in National HSIs Week to celebrate their contributions to the U.S. higher education landscape.

HSIs – which include two and four-year schools and public and private institutions – educate 65 percent of Latino undergraduates, according to Excelencia. They also enroll a substantial number of Latinos in graduate degree programs.

But one of their biggest hurdles – and a challenge for other colleges as well – is getting students who enroll to then make it to graduation.

“Less than one in four Latino adults has a college degree,” said Deborah A. Santiago, a co-founder of Excelencia, in a statement about the initiative. Yet, the percentage of Latino college students between the ages of 18 and 24 rose from 21.7 percent in 2000 to 39.2 percent in 2016.

The Adult Learner 360 Academy for HSIs is designed to help the many college students who aren’t the carefree 18- to 21-year-old young adults so often portrayed in pop culture.

More than 7 million college students are 25 and older, and their needs often differ from those of younger students. Many have dependents, jobs and fewer options for federal aid.

Sue McMillin, president and CEO of Greater Texas Foundation, which supports the initiative, said in a statement: “Just as it is critical to focus on supporting traditional age students, colleges must also ensure adult learners receive appropriate supports as they work toward their postsecondary goals.”

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