Hispanic scholarship organization focuses on rural communities

The number of Hispanics living in Mississippi more than doubled over the past 10 years, and a national organization wants to help more students from those families attend college.
Because Hispanic populations are growing in rural communities throughout the South, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has shifted its strategy and begun to focus more of its resources in those areas, said its president and CEO, Frank Alvarez.
The fund currently is seeking Northeast Mississippi businesses and community groups to help distribute a DVD to Hispanic families that emphasizes the importance of college education.
“The Hispanics in the country are becoming much more diverse and have moved into Mississippi and other places where we haven’t been before,” Alvarez said. “It has given us the opportunity to share with those states resources that have developed over the decades.”
Educating a rapidly growing minority group is much more than a Hispanic issue, Alvarez said.
Hispanics trail all other ethnic groups in the number of degrees attained. Twelve percent of Hispanics aged 25 to 29 have attained at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31 percent of the general population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. That’s a statistic that Alvarez argues is detrimental to all Americans.
“The Hispanic population, because it is growing, needs to step forward,” Alvarez said. “It is an American issue. We want to let people know it is in all of our interests to have everyone educated greater than high school.”
The organization is doing more than providing scholarship money. Since 1975, it has awarded more than $300 million in scholarships. However, it also wants to provide information and resources for families.
The group’s goal is to help one person from every Hispanic family attend college and then to watch those numbers grow exponentially in future generations.
“The bottom line is most Hispanic parents come from countries where education is given by the state and so there is no role of a parent to play in the those countries,” Alvarez said. “We want to make the parent aware they do have a role.”
Despite the 106 percent growth in Hispanic population in the state over the past decade, the actual number of Hispanic residents in Mississippi remains small. They made up 2.7 of Mississippi’s population, according to the 2010 census. That was just more than 80,000 residents.
In the 16 counties of Northeast Mississippi, 13,303 Hispanic residents make up about 2.7 of the local population. The largest concentration is in Pontotoc County, where Hispanics make up more than 6 percent of the population.
Alvarez said that the number is still growing and now is the time for action.
“If it is 3 percent today, in another decade, it will be double or more,” he said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal