President Barack Obama appointed UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and UT San Antonio President Ricardo Romo to serve on a 16-member team of educational and civic leaders called the advisory commission for the Educational Excellence for Hispanics Initiative.
Obama established the commission last year as part of the initiative, which former president George H. W. Bush originally created in 1990.
According to a report the Department of Education released in April, Hispanics are the largest growing minority community in America but have the lowest education attainment levels — only 13 percent of Latinos have a bachelor’s degree and 4 percent have professional or graduate degrees. According to a 2009 U.S. Census survey, 27.9 percent of all Americans have bachelor’s degrees and 10.3 percent have advanced degrees.
Romo said he is looking forward to fulfilling the goals set by the President of out-building, out-innovating and out-educating the rest of the world. He said the United States can start doing that by acknowledging the shortcomings of its educational system.
He said 50 percent of the Hispanic students in America drop out before they graduate high school. Only 20 percent of the students who graduate are ready for college, he said.
“We have to ask our teachers, our parents and our students to do better and figure out what’s the cause of this failure,” Romo said.
He said his work at the commission will require talking to educators and suggesting ideas to improve higher education for Hispanic students.
Romo said in the last 10 years, the number of Hispanic students graduating has almost doubled at UTSA, where 44 percent of the students are Hispanic. There needs to be greater emphasis on increasing scholarships and financial aid for Hispanic students because most do not come from affluent families, Romo said.
“If we don’t get them financial aid, they are not going to be able to go to college,” he said. “We need more Pell grants [and] we need more TEXAS Grants.”
Fransisco Tamayo, accounting junior and membership director of the Senate of College Councils, said his mother was pulled out of school in Mexico when she was in third grade to support her family because her mother passed away.
“[Mexico] is not where you live for an education,” Tamayo said. “It’s more like you live for the next day.”
After Tamayo’s parents came to the United States, his father worked 70 hours a week earning minimum wage to provide for the family.
“They always pushed me to go to college,” Tamayo said.
White House Officials’ focus has shifted from merely creating data reports to going out into the field and taking action against poverty and low high school and college graduation rates in Hispanic communities, the initiative’s executive director Juan Sepulveda said.
The commissioners will build close partnerships between private and public organizations in the next few months, Sepulveda said. They will foster relationships between the commission and private organizations already working to enhance the quality of education for Hispanic communities.
He said in order to combat the fight against drop-out rates, the White House needed people closely tied to Hispanic communities. Cigarroa was the first Latin American to be appointed as the UT system chancellor and will serve as a strong role model for Hispanic communities as the commissioner, Sepulveda said.
He said leaders such as Romo who succeeded despite limited opportunities set a standard for the community and give members hope to achieve greater things, Sepulveda said.
“With people like the chancellor and Dr. Romo, we are changing the focus of the commission,” he said.
There aren’t many role models in the Hispanic community, Tamayo said. Cigarro’s success at the UT System and his appointment to the commission show that Hispanics can achieve great things with better access to education.
“It allows you to see that you can be a leader,” Tamayo said.
Originally printed on 6/9/2011 as Obama adds UT chancellor to initiative for education