News Column

Rising Goals in Higher Education

May 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Nonprofit profiles by Senior Editor Joel Russell, and Contributing Editor Jennifer Riley

Sara Martinez Tucker
Sara Martinez Tucker

Marisol Castillo always knew she would go to college, so when she was accepted at Stanford University it was an opportunity she couldn't refuse. Still, it was hard to convince her Mexican-born parents that she should travel so far from the family's San Antonio home for her education. And to make ends meet, Ms. Castillo had to take out loans and work up to three jobs her freshman year.

It wasn't until her sophomore year that Ms. Castillo learned of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and applied for a scholarship that eventually paid for that year's tuition and retroactively covered her freshman year.

"It was really nice to call my parents and tell them they didn't have to worry about me," says Ms. Castillo, who graduated from Stanford last year with a bachelor's degree in political science and comparative literature. "Even though they don't understand the system in the states very well, they understand that education is the key to success."

Ms. Castillo is one of thousands of students that the San Francisco-based nonprofit seeks to help. Established in 1975, the agency has awarded more than 61,000 scholarships totaling more than $115 million. During the 2002-2003 academic year, the organization awarded more than $26 million in scholarships to more than 7,500 Hispanic students in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last year, the fund had expenditures of $36.5 million, ranking it fifth on the Hispanic Business annual listing of top nonprofits.

Since the late 1990s, the agency's annual scholarship amount has increased every year, thanks largely to a $50 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., and to the agency's participation in the $1 billion Gates Millennium Scholarship Program. With a goal of doubling the percentage of Hispanics completing at least four years of college - from 9.3 percent in 1996 to 18 percent by 2010 the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has mounted a multi-pronged campaign funded almost entirely by foundation grants.

"In our first several years, the only thing we focused on were Latinos who had overcome the academic hurdles and just needed the financial aid [to attend college]," says Sara Martinez Tucker, the nonprofit's president and CEO. "But by the mid-'90s, we knew the answer wasn't just retention."

An independent study the organization commissioned on Hispanics and higher education pointed out that more was needed to reach their targeted 18 percent attainment rate by 2010: close the gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites by 85 percent. To accomplish this, they had to increase the Hispanic high school graduation rate, increase the percentage of Hispanics starting college, and increase the Hispanic college-retention rate.

"Ninety-seven percent of our scholarship recipients earn their B.A.," Ms. Martinez Tucker says, "and they tell us that in their families, it was always expected that they'd go to college. So we knew we had to get to the parents." In response, the fund launched a program of town hall meetings in high school gyms across the country there were 30 in 13 cities last year attracting an average of 200 attendees eager to hear about opportunities that can be provided by the fund, which has grown to include 72 employees and regional offices in New York, Chicago, Texas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

Ms. Castillo has spoken at such meetings in Palo Alto, California, where she's now pursuing a master's degree in education at Stanford. She says the meetings are invaluable, particularly because the fund has college representatives and scholarship recipients available to answer questions. "[Parents] have the opportunity to hear what they can do to help their children," she says. "Encourage them to stay in high school and to go to college."



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