The University of Texas at San Antonio’s efforts to accelerate the success of Latino students earned the school a certification of excellence from a national organization dedicated to Latino achievement in higher education, officials announced Thursday.

Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit, awarded its Seal of Excelencia to UTSA and four other schools at a virtual ceremony. The certification goes to higher education institutions that place great care and intention into serving their Latino students.

Nine schools received the inaugural designation in 2019, including the University of Texas at El Paso. This year, the recognition went to UTSA, the University of Texas at Austin, California State University at Sacramento, Long Beach City College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Excelencia in Education assesses applicant schools on their data and practices related to Latino student enrollment, retention, transfer rates, financial aid, and degree completion. The organization also reviews schools’ representation of Latinos among faculty, staff, and administration.

At the virtual announcement, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy reflected on his school’s history and its founding purpose to serve Mexican American students in South Texas.

“We were created to help around this whole issue of educational inequity in South Texas,” Eighmy said. “It gives me such pleasure to think about the fact that today, the sealed designation is just another step in this process of our institution [and] serving our community.”

UTSA’s most recent enrollment data shows more than 55 percent of UTSA’s fall 2019 class identified as Hispanic. The school has improved academic outcomes for Hispanic students in recent years.

From 2015-16 to 2019-20, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students increased by 32 percent and the number of Hispanic students enrolled in undergraduate programs increased by 25 percent. In the same period, the percent of Latino students with student loan debt decreased by 6 percent.

“We recognize that earning the Seal of Excelencia is a waypoint in our journey, not the final destination,” Eighmy said. “The university has more to do to fully embrace its identity as a Hispanic Serving Institution and cultivate an environment where students from all backgrounds can thrive.”

Excelencia in Education created the certification in 2019, and the certification status lasts three years.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.