The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico was recognized recently at the United States Capitol for being among America's top programs that increase academic opportunities and improve achievement for Latino students at the associate, bachelor and graduate levels.

Elected officials and higher education leaders from across the country joined Excelencia in Education in honoring RWJF Center.

The RWJF Center was selected for its work at the graduate level from among 159 competitors as one of 16 national finalists for the 2012 Examples of Excelencia recognition. The accompanying release of "What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education" is part of a portfolio of hundreds of evidence-based practices that institutions and policy makers can draw on to improve Latino student success.

Latinos will have to earn 5.5 million college degrees by 2020 for America to achieve President Barack Obama's goal of American world leadership in college degrees by 2020.

Over the past seven years, Excelencia in Education has systematically identified and evaluated more than 500 programs and departments that demonstrate with evidence that they effectively boost Latino enrollment, performance and graduation. Top honors this year went to programs run by Valencia College in Orlando, Fla.; California State University, Bakersfield; and The University of Texas, El Paso.

"America cannot become the world leader in college degrees, nor will it have a globally competitive workforce in the future, if it does not focus on improving Latino college completion," said Rep. Charles Gonzalez, chairman, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who spoke at the event.

"As one of this year's national finalists, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico is at the forefront of meeting the challenge of improving higher educational achievement for Latino students," said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education. "With 2020 quickly approaching, we have accumulated a significant portfolio of evidence-based practices that institutions and policy makers can and must put into action."

"The RWJF Center strives to increase the diversity of scholars and national leaders in the social and behavior sciences come from historically under-represented communities prepared to work in interdisciplinary teams with clinicians to address the social, political and economic issues that contribute to making our communities, families and individuals healthy," said Robert Valdez, executive director and RWJF professor of Family and Community Medicine and Economics at UNM.

Deborah Santiago, vice president of Excelencia in Education, said, "By sharing what works, we hope to prompt educators and policymakers to challenge the current status of Latino achievement in higher education and inspire these decision makers to work to increase Latino student success."

Excelencia in Education is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education.