Valencia College in Orlando won national recognition this week for its participation in the DirectConnect to UCF program, which guarantees university admission to graduates of four Central Florida colleges.

Excelencia in Education chose Valencia as the nation’s top program for increasing academic opportunities and success for Latino students at the associate level. Also honored at a gala on Oct. 2 in Washington were programs run by California State University Bakersfield and the University of Texas, El Paso.

The honorees all were recognized for boosting Latino enrollment, performance and graduation.

DirectConnect to UCF was started in 2006 to expand access to higher education and has been shown to be one of the least expensive ways to achieve a bachelor’s degree in the nation. The program ensures admission to UCF for graduates of Valencia College, Brevard and Lake-Sumter community colleges and Seminole State College of Florida.

Nearly a quarter of the baccalaureate graduates of UCF, the nation’s second-largest university, are transfer students from Valencia.

“Valencia College is at the forefront of meeting the challenge of improving higher educational achievement for Latino students,” said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education.

Valencia’s Joyce Romano, vice president of Student Affairs, accepted the award and a $5,000 check for the college. “This honor is recognition of Valencia’s commitment to Latino student success by building pathways for students to complete a bachelor’s degree,” she said.

UCF’s academic advisors work closely with advisors at Valencia and the other DirectConnect to UCF partner colleges to help students make a smooth transition to the university.

Valencia ranks fifth among the nation’s colleges and universities in the number of associate degrees awarded to Hispanic students, which account for almost 31 percent of the college’s 60,770 degree-seeking students.