Saturday, May 17, 2014

Not Part of the Statistic: The Story of Two First-Generation Longhorns

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from Spring 2014.

By Claudia Resendez

According to the United States Census Bureau, the U.S. Hispanic population has grown from 14.6 million people in 1980, to nearly 52 million as of 2011.

The animated GIF below depicts the change in population and shows the areas of highest population density throughout the country from 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2011. This GIF was created from images by the The Atlantic Cities newspaper from Pew Research datasets.

With the increase in U.S. Hispanic population, “there has also been significant progress for Hispanics in achieving high school levels of attainment but much less for college attainment,” according to Steve Murdock, founding director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

According to the Census Bureau, 44.38 million people 18 years and older, of all races, held a bachelor’s degree in 2013. Of these, only 3.36 million were Hispanic, meaning that of the U.S. population who holds a bachelor’s degree, only 7.57 percent were of Hispanic decent.

“I believe [the low percentage] is influenced by costs associated with college attendance,” said Murdock.

The estimated undergraduate flat-rate tuition and fees total for the 2013 – 2014 school year at The University of Texas at Austin was $9,346 – 10,738, plus $8,973 – $11,148 for room and board, according to the website.

Gabriela Fernandez is a first-generation student of Mexican decent pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts with a focus in Spanish alongside a Bachelor or Science in Communication Studies with a focus in Corporate Communication, at The University of Texas at Austin. Originally from Brownsville, Texas, Fernandez was awarded the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship with which she is able to pay for her costly tuition.

Gates Millenium Scholars Program Logo

“Without the [Gates Millennium] scholarship, I don’t think I would have been able to pursue a degree at a university like UT,” said Fernandez. “My parents do not have the means to pay for my tuition and I owe everything to having been chosen for this award.”

According to the program’s website, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program selects 1,000 talented students each year to receive a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice.

Fernandez is scheduled to graduate from The Moody College of Communication on May 16 and was recently accepted into Columbia University to pursue a master’s in public health, for which her Gates Millennium scholarship is paying $30,000 of the annual $60,000 annual tuition.

Upon graduation, she will become part of the estimated 22 percent of the total U.S. Hispanic population who holds a bachelor’s degree in the Arts, Humanities or a related field.

Field of study for the U.S. Hispanic Population in 2012TotalPercentage
Science and Engineering1,360,10634
Science and Engineering related fields335,5808.4
Arts, Humanities and Other880,77522

“There was a point were a bachelor’s degree was simply a dream and honestly, a master’s degree had never crossed my mind – much less from an Ivy League school,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez was fortunate enough have been awarded the help of this program to pursue higher education, but that is not the case for all Hispanic students in need.

Jessica Sosa is also a first-generation student from Brownsville, Texas, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies with a focus in Speech Pathology, at The University of Texas. She also does not have the help of her parents, but was not awarded any scholarships, and although she has been awarded a few grants for low-income students, still has to work two jobs in order to pay for room and board.

“It’s really hard, I’m not going to lie,” said Sosa. “There have certainly been a few times where I thought about quitting and dropping out because it was simply too hard.”

Sosa is currently a sales associate at T-mobile in Riverside and an operations assistant at Planet Fitness, a gym in the same area. She works more than 40 hours a week combined at both jobs, and is also enrolled full-time in order to complete her degree by her expected graduation date this year.

“I never thought I would make it this far,” said Sosa. “This is my biggest accomplishment so far.”

Although she is not yet certain of what she will be doing after graduation, Sosa is currently applying to speech therapy assistant positions throughout Texas and hopes to hear back from one of these potential employers in the near future.

The number of Hispanic students in the U.S. whom actually walk across the stage is minimal, but both Sosa and Fernandez will not be a part of that statistic. Come May 16, after much work, determination and different sets of struggles, both girls will become part of the small number of U.S. Hispanic whom actually become college graduates.

The chart below shows the distribution in educational attainment for the U.S. Hispanic population in 2011. The dark red represents the smallest portion of the chart and also the part of the U.S. Hispanic population that actually become college graduates.


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