Helping Students Apply Themselves: New Centers Provide Technology Resources, Mentors for College-Hopeful Latinos

DALLAS, Feb. 3, 2003 — The hard road to a college degree is paved with more than just money.

Since 1975, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has helped Latino students in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands finance college education. In its 27-year history, the organization has provided 54,000 scholarships totaling nearly US$89 million to support its mission of doubling by 2010 the rate at which Hispanics graduate from college. Today, only 10.6 percent of U.S. Hispanics are college graduates, compared to 28.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Liza Martinez (left), a Microsoft employee and volunteer at the HSF/Microsoft Community Technology Center in Dallas, talks to a student during the center’s opening. Click image for high-res version.

The fund’s leaders realized that to achieve this ambitious goal meant more than providing financial aid alone. Completing a college education is a long, involved process with many hurdles, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund needed to expand the resources and services it offers to the Latino community.

“We’ve really focused on providing a more holistic approach to servicing our students,” says Miguel Salinas, spokesperson for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. “We realized we also needed to get parents involved, help kids get into college, and help the kids that are in college stay there and graduate.”

To provide this “pipeline” approach to helping Latino students, Hispanic Scholarship Fund has partnered with Microsoft to open the first two of four Community Technology Centers in the United States in the next year. To help families make smart decisions and become better informed about what it takes to get into and pay for college, the HSF/Microsoft Community Technology Centers will provide access to the vast amount of higher educational resources available online.

Each center will be equipped with 15 – 20 computers equipped with Microsoft software. They will also provide free access to the Web, as more and more institutions are moving their application process online Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Students and parents can also create personal statements of intent, inquiry letters and other content needed to apply for a scholarship or college at the center.

The Dallas Community Technology Center will be managed by the fund’s Dallas District office. An on-site manager will guide a volunteer staff that provides technical help as well as advice about the college application process.

According to the foundation’s research, Hispanics have the highest high school dropout rates (28.6 percent) of any major racial or ethnic group, compared with 7.3 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Only 31.5 percent of recent Hispanic high school graduates go to college, compared with 45.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The result is that 10.6 percent of Hispanic adults have a bachelors degree, compared with 28.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Because some Hispanic students’ families don’t have a tradition of attending school, Salinas says that the role the volunteers and mentors play at the Community Technology Center’s is as important as the computers themselves.

“It’s so important for the parents and kids to meet these role models to emphasize the benefits of a college education,” says Salinas. “When the kids meet professionals that have been through college and have a good job today, it helps them realize they make it as well.”

With offices across the country, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has planned to build four Community Technology Centers. The first center opened Saturday, Feb. 1 in Dallas. A second center is expected to open in Los Angeles in April. Two other centers, in Chicago and New York, are planned for early 2004. Microsoft donated $168,000 in cash and software in support of the first two centers.

U.S. Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, who represents Texas’ 28th Congressional district, paid tribute to the centers in a statement.

“I am particularly pleased to see that my home state of Texas will host the first of these technology centers created in this collaborative process,” says Rodriguez. “Microsoft’s commitment to corporate responsibility, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s commitment to helping ensure our youth access to a higher education, means that our next generation of Latino leaders will be better prepared to take our country to great heights.”

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund has other programs to provide a pipeline of services for students. They host a series of town hall meetings at high school gyms across the United States. At these events, 300-400 parents and kids get a step-by-step walk-through of the college admissions process. The organization also offers services to students in college, including tutoring resources and career planning assistance.

“The return on investment of educating is good for everyone: the individual, the community, and the entire country,” says Salinas. “There are 35 million Latinos in this country today,” says Salinas. “It’s clear what needs to be done.”

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