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More Hispanic students could mean millions for UHV

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Oct. 9, 2010 at 5:09 a.m.

Arianna Garcia, 18, a Victoria College student, speaks to her twin sister, Brianna, before performing in the UHV lobby. The number of Hispanics  attending UHV is growing and if the trend continues, the university can be designated an Hispanic-Serving Institution, something VC has already done.

What is a Hispanic-serving institution?A Hispanic-serving institution is a school where at least 25 percent of enrolled students are Hispanic. Schools with these populations can be eligible to apply for millions of dollars of federal education funds and grants.

Funds may be used for activities such as:

Lab equipment for teaching

Construction or renovation of instructional facilities

Faculty development

Purchase of educational materials

Academic tutoring or counseling programs

Funds for administrative management

Joint use of facilities

Endowment funds

Distance learning academic instruction

Teacher education

Student support services.

Source: Department of Education

Hispanic-Serving Public Universities in Texas Of the 39 four-year public universities in the state, only nine are Hispanic-Serving Institutions, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Jazmin Herrera, an 18-year-old University of Houston-Victoria freshman, has childhood memories of picking vegetables as a migrant farm worker with her family.

Her biggest reason for going to college is simple.

"I look forward to not working in the fields," she said.

Herrera is the first in her family to attend college, after advice from her father, who never went past the fifth grade.

She hopes to finish school and be an example for her family.

"There's hard work," she said. "There's reading, studying, but I'm going to get through it."

Large Hispanic student body means more federal funds

Many in the UHV freshmen class have a story like Herrera. More than half of the new class are Hispanic and more than a third are the first to attend college in their family.

If the trend continues, the school will most likely become a Hispanic-serving institution, which could potentially mean access to millions of dollars in federal funds.

"It is pretty exciting," said Wayne Beran, UHV vice president for administration and finance. "It does open up a door to apply for millions of dollars of grant money."

Beran believes in the next two years Hispanic enrollment numbers will increase to the 25 percent needed to become a Hispanic-serving institution.

"We hope as we grow with freshmen and sophomores that would push us over," he said.

Hispanic enrollment is slightly more than 20 percent of UHV's 4,149 students, up from the 18 percent before the underclassmen arrived. The school also saw an increase in Hispanic students at its Sugar Land campus.

Location, a small-town setting and costs were what appealed to underclassmen.

Herrera chose the school because she wanted to be part of the first class of freshmen.

"We're the first ones to set the traditions, set the customs," she said.

First-generation students often need additional support like tutoring and mentoring, something federal funds help provide.

Victoria College has been a Hispanic-Serving Institution since 1998 with 35 percent of its 4,323 students identifying themselves as Hispanic.

Florinda Correa, VC vice president of student services, said the status provides much needed money.

"The funding is so critical in order to provide services," she said. "And this is just one more way of having those services available."

This year, the school received a $1.3 million grant to fund its student support services Key Center and a $2.8 million Title V grant.

Although the funds are a result of the Hispanic-serving statutes, Correa believes the money benefits all students.

"We're also meeting the needs of the community," she said. "As the population shifts, then we're able to provide those services to the community."

Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, also a Hispanic-serving institution, last year received more than $7 million in federal grants only because of its status.

"It helps us provide those services for the students that we probably couldn't afford otherwise," said Provost Ted Guffy.

Not a "color thing"

The Hispanic population is projected to skyrocket by 22 percent in the next 10 years if immigration trends continue for Victoria County, according to state demographic data. In the state of Texas, the group is expected to reach 25 million by 2040.

But the group remains largely undereducated and college graduation rates are dismal.

Of the 111,169 degrees awarded at Texas public universities, only 23,733 were awarded to Hispanics last year. At UHV, only 114 of the 801 degrees awarded went to Hispanics.

Many at the school believe the issue is beyond federal dollars. As Baby Boomers exit the workforce, educating Hispanics means educating people to fill those vacant jobs.

"We need to go beyond the color thing," said Olga Chapa, a UHV business professor who has researched recruitment issues for Hispanic women. "Think numbers. Think economic power. Think America."

If the issue of an uneducated Hispanic workforce isn't addressed, she said, the outcome will be dire because Hispanics are the fastest growing minority nationwide.

"This is going to become a global problem and we're going to lose our status as the No. 1 nation," Chapa said.

Keeping Hispanics in school

When Juan Diego Martinez, a UHV graduate student from Seadrift, first came to school, leaving his close-knit, Hispanic family was a struggle.

"It's difficult to break ties with them and pursue educational goals," he said.

But Victoria's location, less than two hours from four major cities and three hours from the Valley, makes it not too far from home.

"This is becoming the place where parents are more willing to encourage their young children to leave," Chapa said.

Many parents of first generation children usually don't understand the college process, or are even able to communicate with university staff, making the process intimidating.

"They don't know how to help their students succeed," Martinez said. "They don't have people to help them, to speak to them in Spanish."

Since Martinez started, he's seen a large influx of Hispanic professors, something he believes is critical to keeping Hispanic students.

UHV will also have to create student support systems that mimic the family setting.

"You have to replace what they're leaving - that tight, social support - as an organization, as a university.," Chapa said. "These are the things we have to focus on creating. This warm, caring environment, which we have already in Victoria."

The first few weeks of class have been difficult for Herrera, with Jaguar Hall unfinished and being away from family, but the struggles are worthwhile.

"Later on, I'm going to be working in a lab and I won't have to go through what my father went through," she said. "I don't want to be part of that statistic anymore. I know we can do it."

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