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  Untitled Document Hispanic higher education conference ends
with call for new funding and partnerships

ANAHEIM, California – The 17th Annual Conference of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) ended last week with calls for new education funding and wider partnerships to support the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor force.

More than 1,000 people, including leaders from the Hispanic higher education community, corporations, Congress, the White House, government agencies and philanthropic sectors, attended the conference Oct. 18-21 in Anaheim, California.

“There was consensus at every conference event that we must convince Congress and the country to make closing the Hispanic college graduation gap a national priority,” said HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores.

“The stakes are enormous because of the profound impact the youngest and largest ethnic population will have on our country’s future economic strength and global leadership,” Flores said.

Efforts to close the Hispanic college gap for a population that suffers the lowest high school and college graduation rates of any major population group were the focus of a series of special sessions and workshops.

“In these challenging economic times, we can present a powerful voice for academic excellence,” said HACU Governing Board Chair Salme Harju Steinberg, president of Northeastern Illinois University, in her welcome letter to conference participants.

“Our higher education institutions are the best in the world. We must not allow economic pressures at the state or national level to diminish our investments in our institutions of higher learning. They are fundamental to sustaining our domestic peace and prosperity and our leadership as a free and enlightened democracy,” said Steinberg, whose term as HACU Governing Board Chair ended at the conference.

Congress must act now to reverse years of funding neglect for Hispanic higher education, conference participants were told. In an uncertain economy, the higher education community also must share resources and expertise to ultimately increase Hispanic college graduation rates, participants agreed.

“Access is always the first issue on everyone’s mind,” said Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Sally Stroup. The Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education also challenged conference participants to focus on retention issues to better address traditionally high Hispanic dropout rates during the first and second year of college. “Once you’re a junior, you’re more likely to finish,” she said.

One higher education administrator told Stroup that high school graduates must be better prepared academically for college to increase college retention rates. Affordability is also a key factor, said a college administrator from California who cited escalating tuition fees in her state. One Latino college student cited the high price of college textbooks and lack of computer access as additional factors forcing many cash-strapped students to consider dropping out.

Congress must be persuaded to target substantial new funding increases to Hispanic higher education, conference participants were told, especially for the country’s more than 200 Hispanic-Serving Institutions, or HSIs. HSIs, which have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic, receive only about half the federal funding per student on average compared to all other groups of degree-granting institutions.

HACU, which has its national headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, represents more than 350 colleges and universities, including HSIs, which collectively serve more than two-thirds of all Hispanic higher education students in the United States. HACU’s international membership includes leading higher education institutions in Latin America and in Spain.

The association is advocating for record new federal funding increases for Hispanic higher education in federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. HACU is also advocating for longer-term, wider-reaching increases in funding support as part of the five-year reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which determines federal spending policies for all higher education institutions.

Flores attracted applause when he told the conference that HSIs next year for the first time are likely to surpass the $100 million mark in annual federal funding under Title V of the Higher Education Act. HACU proposals now before Congress also include calls for substantial new support for HSIs for teacher education, student financial aid, student retention programs, graduate education and international education.

As the nation’s leading voice for Hispanic higher education, HACU has won substantial increases in each of the last several years for HSIs, said U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra of California, praising the organization for its leadership in the national public policy arena. “Our progress has been impressive, but HSIs are still the most under-funded cohort of institutions serving the most under-served population. We need to take it to that next level,” Becerra told conference participants.

“Latinos are the work force of the future of America,” U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez of California, told the conference. “Where we go, so goes America.”

The conference’s International Plenary attracted a large audience to hear a call for new cross-border academic partnerships from panelists from the United States and Mexico, including Juan Jose Serrato, Director of Bilateral Relations for Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education.

Conference participants also called for new articulation partnerships between two-year community colleges and four-year institutions. More than 50 percent of all Hispanic higher education students attend community colleges.

Miguel Palacios, a national community college leader and president of the Desert Vista Campus of Pima Community College in Arizona, was elected Chair of the HACU Governing Board for the upcoming year.

New members of the HACU Governing Board were appointed: Ricardo Romo, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio; Maria Sheehan, president of California’s College of the Desert; Tessa Martinez Pollack, president of Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas, and Tomas Arciniega, president of California State University at Bakersfield.

Arciniega, a renowned national advocate for Hispanic higher education, was honored at HACU’s First Annual Roast and Fundraiser before the start of this year’s conference. Proceeds will support the general work of HACU and a new scholarship in Arciniega’s name.

The leadership of HACU joined the Army, Air Force and the leadership of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for a series of pre-conference events and workshops. The Coast Guard invested more than $300,000 in support of HACU and HSIs in FY 2003, including the assignment of Coast Guard Capt. Adolfo Ramirez to HACU’s headquarters as the first military officer assigned through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act to HACU.

The leadership of HACU and the DoD signed a new Collaborative Partnership Agreement during the conference that will promote new research and employment opportunities to students and faculty at HACU member colleges and universities.

More than 800 Southern California high school students attended a pre-conference Youth Leadership Day event featuring workshops and special sessions designed to encourage Latino high school students to aim early for a college degree. “We want you to dream, and dream big, about your future,” California State University at Fullerton President Milton Gordon told a crowded auditorium at the Cal State Fullerton campus.

Cal State Fullerton also hosted a pre-conference series of financial literacy workshops as part of the campus edition of the national CreditSmart Español program administered by HACU and funded by Freddie Mac, one of the nation’s largest investors in residential mortgages.

Freddie Mac executives announced at the conference that the free, bilingual consumer credit education initiative, already introduced at six HACU member campuses, would be expanded to three more colleges: Lehman College of the City University of New York, the Desert Vista Campus of Pima Community College in Arizona and South Texas Community College.

The shortage of Hispanic higher education executives was the subject of a popular, pre-conference Latino Higher Education Leadership Institute that addressed the need to add more diversity to top administrative ranks in higher education.

Many of the world’s best known corporations and government agencies were among the sponsors of HACU’s 17th Annual Conference, including AT&T, the Central Intelligence Agency, Eastman Kodak, Gateway, the Army, Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Other conference sponsors included: Altria, Citibank, Coors Brewing Company, the Farm Credit Administration, Hispanic Magazine, Latina Style Magazine, Miller Brewing Company, Verizon Communications, Academic Systems, Cal State Fullerton, Capital One, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), ESX Engineering, Hispanic Network Magazine, The College Board and Toyota.

Conference sponsors also included: Freddie Mac, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Marriott International, Office of Surface Mining of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Southwest Airlines, TIAA-CREF, Towers Perrin, the U.S. Department of Commerce and McDonald’s Corporation.

Coors Brewing Company presented a $35,000 gift to HACU to establish a new scholarship program for pre-pharmacy and pharmacy majors attending HACU member colleges in California. Coors Brewing Company earlier this year provided $125,000 in scholarship funds to HACU to administer the Coors Light Academic Success in Education (CLASE) scholarship program for HACU students nationwide.

HACU presented its highest awards for 2003 at the annual conference to:

Gateway Inc. as Outstanding HACU Private Sector Partner;
National Science Foundation as Outstanding HACU Public Sector Partner;
U.S. Representative Jerry Lewis of California for HACU Exemplary Policy Leadership;
Verizon Foundation as Extraordinary HACU Philanthropic Partner;
University of Guadalajara in Mexico as Outstanding HACU International Member Institution.

For more information, and available photographs of the conference, visit www.hacu.net. Or call (619) 997-1637.