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Latino Education Summit Convened, 2011 Obama Scholars Named by Hispanic Scholarship Fund

Latinos lag in high school graduation and college completion rates, but the numbers are improving and the demographics are changing quickly, according to Frank Alvarez, the president of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

“What we’ve begun to see, because of the slowing down of immigration, is that there are more native births,” said Alvarez. “We have begun to see that students have started to consider themselves differently than they did before. There is a change in the dominance of language—it’s less Spanish for the generation that is coming.”

Alvarez, who was in New York to participate in the HSF’s Alumni Hall of Fame and Education Summit and announce the second cohort of Obama Scholars on Monday and Tuesday, said it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to boost educational attainment among Latinos.

“Kids today don’t identify themselves as one box. They check multiple boxes now, and so how do you deal with that?” said Alvarez.

Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, spoke at the summit and highlighted major findings in a new report. 

Latinos are starting to graduate high school in higher numbers, and they now make up a majority of students on community college campuses. “It’s not only the economy, but eligibility, that is increasing the enrollment of Hispanics,” he said. In 2008, Latinos made up about 8 percent of college graduates.

“More so than any other group, young Latinos, in fact all Latinos, are more likely to say that a college education is important for success in life today,” he added.

While Lopez presented his findings at the summit, the next class of Obama Scholars also was announced. Twelve deserving college juniors in the STEM fields received the first half of a $5,000 scholarship. The Obama Scholars program was created after President Barack Obama donated $125,000 to the HSF from his Nobel Peace Prize award in 2009. 

Although the funds had no strings attached, leaders at the HSF decided to create a program that coincided with the organization’s objectives and the president’s. After much research, Alvarez said they decided to go with a program that supported students in STEM fields and education. “[President Obama is]very strong on STEM, and the other thing that we pulled out was that he was very strong on having the teacher in the classroom look like the student,” said Alvarez.

Katherine Minaya, 19, a biological science major at the University of Chicago, said she was shocked when she found out she had received some of the president’s Nobel Peace Prize money. “I was actually in awe. I was like, ‘Wait did I actually get this money? Weren’t there other people who were more qualified than me?’”

The New Yorker who was born in the Dominican Republic said she heard her story in the stories of the honorees on stage. Coming from an immigrant family of limited means and the importance of a mentor were both things that resonated with Minaya. “The main thing for me is like, ‘It’s an investment in you because we believe that you can do great things,’” she said of all the speeches.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go without the help of multiple organizations. A lot of Hispanics can’t go to school without these scholarships,” said Minaya, who also received grants and an Odyssey Scholarship from the University of Chicago.

Alvarez noted that one of the reasons HSF hosts its education summit and alumni hall of fame in New York is because many of its donors are there, and the donors want to hear about what’s going on with Latinos in higher education. While the Obama Scholars program funds are up with this cohort of students, Alvarez plans to secure more funding for the scholarship. He also announced that the HSF will be partnering with Teach for America to build a pipeline of Latino educators.

Other mentorship/scholarship programs are in the works, but he noted with regard to mentors, “The numbers are such that there aren’t enough Hispanic college graduates to help the numbers that are coming through,” he said.

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