Hurd on the Hill: Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month

September 17, 2018
Hurd on the Hill: Local Columns
Closing the resource gap for Hispanic Serving Institutions of Higher Education

September 15 to October 15 of each year marks Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to recognize, honor and celebrate the valuable contributions that Hispanic-Americans have made across our communities. While we pay tribute, this month is also a reminder that we must work together to ensure the continued success of future generations of Hispanic-Americans across South and West Texas.

An important way for us to do so is by leveling the playing field of educational opportunities, and there are nearly 500 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) nationwide whose missions are to do just that. I am incredibly proud to serve as a co-chair of the Congressional HSI Caucus to support these universities that empower Hispanic students to complete their education and become valuable contributors to our workforce.

The 23rd District of Texas is home to five HSIs, including Southwest Junior College in Uvalde; Sul Ross State University in Alpine; and Palo Alto College, Baptist University of the Américas and Texas A&M University of San Antonio, all of which are in San Antonio. Additionally, I’ve been able to advocate for nearby HSIs, including the University of Texas at San Antonio and University of Texas at El Paso, which both serve many TX-23 students.

Unfortunately, there is an enormous resource gap that exists between HSIs and other institutions of higher education. While only accounting for 15 percent of higher education institutions, HSIs educate 25 percent of American students and more than 60 percent of our nation’s Hispanic students. Meanwhile, HSIs receive only 68 cents in federal funding for every dollar that other institutions of higher education receive.

Luckily, I’ve been able to work with my colleagues to take important steps to close this resource gap. After requesting to House leadership that we increase funding for HSIs, I was proud to support legislation in March that included over $134 million for HSIs, an increase of nearly $32 million from last year and the highest amount to date. I am also proud that $30 million was provided for the National Science Foundation HSI Program, which helps Hispanic students pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees and careers.

Additionally, I recently introduced the GEAR UP for Success Act, a bipartisan bill that reauthorizes and increases eligible uses for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a competitive federal grant program designed to better prepare low-income, minority and first-generation students for college and careers through college awareness and support activities such as tutoring, mentoring, counseling and scholarships as early as middle school. Companion legislation has also been introduced by John Cornyn in the Senate.

Residents of TX-23 recognize the daily contributions that Hispanic-Americans make each day in our communities from San Antonio to El Paso. It is a distinct honor to be able to represent a majority Hispanic district in Congress, and I will continue to do all that I can to ensure the continued success of Hispanic-Americans for future generations to come.