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  SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The nation’s graduate education community is joining ranks to find ways to increase the number of Hispanics obtaining graduate degrees, especially in high-demand fields such as science and engineering.

Members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) will join government, and industry leaders September 11-13 at a conference in Illinois to lay the groundwork for new partnerships to enhance graduate education opportunities for the country’s youngest and largest ethnic population.

“Even in today’s tough labor market, jobs in high-demand fields such as engineering, science and technology remain unfilled. Hispanics make up the fastest-growing component of our labor force, yet, because they lack advanced degrees, they are effectively barred from entering professions critical to our nation’s economic strength and security,” said HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores. “It’s imperative that we close this education gap.”

Flores will address the opening session of the conference, “Graduate Education for Hispanics in Science and Engineering: The Role of HACU and Associate Member Institutions,” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, September 11, at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a HACU associate member institution. He will join graduate education scholars from the University of Illinois and senior administrators for Proctor & Gamble and Abbott Laboratories – sponsors of the conference.

The conference will also feature graduate education leaders from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Texas A&M University at Kingsville, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Texas at El Paso, University of New Mexico, University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, New Mexico State University, University of Texas Pan-American, and University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio – all Members or Associate Members of HACU.

Other featured speakers will include representatives of the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Institutes of Health. Conference participants will include representatives of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Mexican American Engineering Society.

HACU represents more than 340 colleges and universities serving the largest concentrations of Hispanic higher education students in the United States, including member Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Associate Member Institutions.

The subtitle for the conference, “The Role of HACU and Associate Member Institutions,” reflects the current dearth of graduate education programs offered by the country’s more than 200 federally designate HSIs, which have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.

Many of HACU’s nearly 100 Associate Member Institutions, which have a student enrollment that is at least 10 percent Hispanic, or numbers a minimum of 1,000 Hispanic students, do offer graduate education programs. Because of the rapid growth of Hispanics, who make up the fastest-growing college-age population, many of these Associate Member Institutions also are designated as “Emerging HSIs” because they are fast approaching the 25 percent enrollment requirement to become HSIs.

“Because of the current shortage of graduate education programs at HSIs, it is imperative that we create partnerships between HSIs and Emerging HSIs to build a better pipeline for our Hispanic students from undergraduate programs to enroll in graduate school programs,” Flores said.

“This is especially challenging, considering that Hispanics currently suffer the lowest high school and undergraduate college completion rates of any major population group,” Flores said. “However, we as a nation can ill afford not to address the entire education spectrum – from high school diplomas to graduate and professional degrees – if we are to best serve a population that will so dramatically impact our economy and global leadership role for the rest of this century.”

As the nation’s leading voice for Hispanic high education, HACU is calling upon Congress to provide first-time federal funding to establish more graduate education programs at historically under-funded HSIs. HACU also is leading the effort to convince Congress to allow its Associate Member Institutions, or Emerging HSIs, to gain access to federal funding programs currently restricted to HSIs.

For more information about HACU, contact HACU Public Affairs Director Daniel Casillas at (210) 692-3805, Ext. 3249 (dcasillas@hacu.net), or visit www.hacu.net. For more information about the upcoming conference, visit www.conferences.uiuc.edu.