Hispanic scholarships worth checking out

Hispanic scholarships worth checking outAt a time when the Hispanic population in the U.S. is growing fast, not enough of them are graduating from college. According to a study done last month by the Education Trust, 60% of white college students nationwide earn their bachelor degrees in six years or less, but only 49% of Hispanic college students complete that goal.

The researchers think the reasons behind that shortfall may be that Latinos don't have as much access to strong academic preparation, such as private tutors or Kaplan courses, as white students may have, and come from families without the financial resources to pay for four or more years of college.

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) aims to change those numbers. Since it was started 35 years ago, HSF has given out more college financial aid to the Hispanic community than any other U.S. organization in the country -- more than $300 million totaling nearly 100,000 scholarships to Latino students seeking Hispanic scholarships.

Alejandra Rincon, HSF's vice president of programs, says that in an average recent year, HSF gives out $27 million, which covers 4,600 students; the average Hispanic scholarship is $2,500. The recession has taken somewhat of a toll but "while we're staying flat on funding increases, there is plenty of interest in the work we're doing by corporate and foundation philanthropists," Rincon says. There are two main sources for HSF scholarship funding for Hispanic scholarships. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the Gates Millenium Scholars Program to high school seniors with at least a 3.3 GPA (applications are due by Jan. 11).

The other group of Hispanic scholarships for high school seniors and college students are funded by a range of corporations, from AT&T to Wells Fargo. Each of those Hispanic scholarships has its own specific requirements, but Rincon says that the bulk go to Latino students who have at least a 3.0 GPA, are from a low-income family and are the first in their family to go to college. Most of those Hispanic scholarships will accept applications again starting in Fall 2011.

The goal for those corporate-funded scholarships is to find students smart enough to learn the specific professional skills a company requires in its employees, so HSF makes custom Hispanic scholarships and job-specific student internships. For example, Marathon Oil needs workers with a high degree of technical skills. HSF provides Marathon with the mechanical, electrical and civil engineering students the company wants to hire. In return, Marathon gives those students financial-aid packages of up to $10,000, plus at least one summer internship in the company. As the well-paying jobs require more training and advanced skills, HSF wants to customize more Hispanic scholarships that bring promising Latino students in closer contact with the companies looking for their future managers and executives.

Besides giving out Hispanic scholarships, HSF helps Hispanic families who don't know how to navigate through the the college application and financial-aid processes. It offers programs like town hall meetings and "Steps for Success Saturdays" that brings students' parents in to learn what it takes to apply to, fund and get through college.

The results so far: Of HSF scholarship recipients, 80% graduated within five and a half years. That's a graduation rate 30% higher than the national average for students of all races. And HSF scholars worked 10 hours less per week in jobs compared to most students, letting them focus more on their studies.

So for any Hispanic student who's smart and strives for a good education, a well-paying job and a solid future, the HSF has training, resources and Hispanic scholarships definitely worth checking out.

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