A College Degree in Every Household
By Katharine A. Diaz
Since 1975, the San Francisco–based Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) has worked to fulfill a dream that in the future every Latino family will be able to boast at least one college graduate.
To date, the HSF has awarded more than $360 million in scholarships, representing more than 100,000 awards. It continues to build relationships with foundations and corporations, to educate parents and families about the importance of a higher education, and to reach out to students to help them secure the needed resources to pay for a college education. Most of its scholars are low income and are the first in their family to attend college.
Yet, the challenge remains great. According to the Center for Education Statistics, Latino students represent the second-largest, ethnic minority population in the United States but are less likely to enroll in colleges and universities compared with their non-Hispanic white counterparts. And their high school dropout rates remain considerably higher than for non-Hispanic whites.
Fortunately, the fund has seen a steady increase in scholarship funding despite the current economic climate. According to Cathy Makunga, vice president of Scholarship Programs for the HSF, “Shifting demographics tell us that if we don’t support this group of students, we are going to be in trouble in the future. We have to pay more attention to this student population.”
She points out that there is ever-increasing interest in funding scholarships in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “We see more of an increase [in funding] in that area because of workforce development.”
This clearly correlates to the fact that the great majority of scholarship funding comes from corporations that are clearly interested in building an educated and qualified workforce.
“We are always looking for new markets and partners,” says Makunga, “but we are heavily focused on corporate funding. The majority of our funding comes from the corporate realm; as much as 80 percent.”
Still, there are other markets that the HSF is trying to capture as potential funders. An important one is individual giving. “We are trying to evolve our alumni base and individual giving,” explains Makunga. “We recognize that there is a need in cultivating that environment.”
For 2011-12, 5,116 scholarships (out of more than 15,000 applications accepted for consideration) were awarded by the HSF to the tune of more than $33.6 million.
Latino students looking for college funding will appreciate the broad base of programs managed by the HSF. Makunga and her staff of 11 administer 150 HSF scholarship programs that include high school to college, community college transfer and college scholarship programs. Some programs award as few as two to three scholarships, others as many as 300.
Funding partners include AT&T, Goya, Procter & Gamble, Staples, Toyota and many, many others.
In addition, she manages the HSF’s major national core programs as well as such specialized, co-branded scholarships as the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (GMS). “This is the Cadillac of scholarships,” explains Makunga. GMS scholarships guarantee a recipient five years of funding for their undergraduate studies. Then if they continue their post-graduate studies in STEM, education, public health or library studies, they can get continued funding to work toward masters’ and doctoral degrees.
The HSF employs several strategies to reach students. It outreaches to former applicants and recipients and utilizes social media to network with students. There are also direct-marketing campaigns to target various groups, academic departments at colleges and universities, and other institutions. In addition, the fund hosts events throughout the year to build awareness of the scholarships.
Another important piece is outreach to parents and families. Makunga notes that it is very important to educate parents and families about what it means to send a child to college. “Too often the family has not been included in that conservation,” emphasizes Makunga. They need to understand how important it is for their children to attend college, and to learn about available resources in order to spare them sticker shock.
HSF scholarships are available for a broad range of areas of study. Regardless, Makunga observes that there are a few general tips that can help you, an interested student, ensure that your application reaches reviewers.
You need to complete everything on the application and submit it by the deadline. You should try to make it clear what areas of study you are interested in. “Very few scholarships are open-ended,” notes Makunga.
For example, even if you know you want to obtain a degree in business, if you can be more specific about where yours interests lie—such as in actuarial sciences or accounting—that might give you an edge over other applicants.
Finally, you should look at those areas of study or professions where there is a deficit. If there is a lack students studying engineering, then there might be more scholarships available in that field.
And, yes, grades do matter.
Students, to learn more about the HSF and its scholarships, visit its Web site at http://www.hsf.net. Pay close attention to the requirements to make sure the scholarship is a match to you and your interests. Is preference given to a specific area of study? Is enrollment in specific colleges or universities preferred? And pay close attention to deadlines, which vary. Remember, an incomplete application or a late one is not likely to reach a reviewer.
Parents can also learn about programs and events that are directed at them on the Web site. These include publications and workshops and seminars. Potential donors—whether individual, corporate or foundation—can learn all about the many ways to donate to the HSF.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund
1411 W. 190th Street, Ste. 325
Gardena, CA 90248
William Ramos, director of Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Commerce (far left); and Frank D. Alvarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (far right), present three students with Obama Scholarship Awards during HSF’s Education Summit in October of 2011. The Obama Scholarship Awards were made possible by President Obama’s generous contribution of a portion of his Nobel Peace Prize to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Photo property of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. All rights reserved.