Gainesville, FL – Elected officials and higher education leaders from across the America came together at the St. Regis Washington, D.C. hotel today to honor the University of Florida’s Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program as a Finalist among America’s top programs that increase academic opportunities and increase achievement for Latino students. The Opportunity Scholars program was selected from among 217 competitors from 26 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as one of 14 Finalists for the 2014 Examples of Excelencia award.  Conceived and run by Excelencia in Education, this is the only national initiative to systematically identify, recognize, and catalogue evidence-based programs that improve Latino college success.

The Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program is an initiative to ensure first generation students from low-income families have the resources they need to be academically and personally successful as undergraduate students at the University of Florida. The primary goal of the program is to retain the scholars at UF and provide support so they graduate at rates equal to or greater than the undergraduate population at large. Scholars receive a full grant and scholarship financial aid package so most graduate with little to no student loan debt. Additionally, the program provides support such as a peer mentor, financial literacy education, career and life planning, academic coaching, as well as leadership development.

Today’s announcement event, Celebraciòn de Excelencia, coincided with the release of the 2014 edition of “What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education,” a compendium of all 29 recognized programs along with the evidence of their success.  Through this annual process, Excelencia in Education continues to grow America’s largest inventory of programs and strategies that education leaders, policymakers, and others tap into to accelerate degree completion among Latinos.

Leslie Pendleton, the Opportunity Scholars program Director, was present at the awards banquet to receive the honor on behalf of the program. In addition, Alexandra Montero and Arantxa Sanchez were honored to represent Opportunity Scholars alumni at this event. Alexandra is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Public Affairs at American University. Arantxa recently moved to New York City (from D.C.) and is a Public Relations intern at Epic PR group.

This is the ninth annual release of Examples of ExcelenciaExcelencia in Education has systematically reviewed more than 700 programs to identify and recognize 125 programs and departments – including, for the first time this year, community-based organizations – that demonstrate with evidence that they effectively boost Latino enrollment, performance and graduation.

“As one of this year’s Finalists, the University of Florida is at the forefront of meeting the challenge of improving higher educational achievement for Latino students,” said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education.  “No longer should policymakers and institutional leaders ask how to improve college success for Latinos – we have the largest accumulation of proven examples and tested strategies that show them how.  Today’s question is do leaders have the will to put these practices into action.”

To download “What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education,” which includes detailed information about all of the programs recognized today, visit

“By sharing what works we hope to support educators, community leaders, funders, and policymakers to take an asset-based approach to serving Latino students,” said Deborah Santiago, COO and vice president of Excelencia in Education and author of the publication.  “Ultimately, we strive to inspire and support replicating and bringing to scale evidence-based practices that serve Latino students and thus serve the country.”

Examples of Excelencia is the only national initiative to systematically identify and promote evidence-based programs and departments effectively boosting Latino enrollment, performance and graduation.  It is presented in collaboration with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).  The 2014 sponsors are ACT, Univision, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, DeVry University, and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014, Excelencia in Education is a Washington, D.C.-based national non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education.