By Nicole Rojas ( | First Posted: Oct 08, 2013 01:34 PM EDT

Congressman and CHCI Chair Ruben Hinojosa. (Photo : Courtesy of CHCI)

During his 16 years in Congress, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, has seen how Latinos have become increasingly involved in politics. His work with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also led greater numbers of Latinos to achieve higher education. While Congressman Hinojosa said Latinos have made “tremendous strides” in education, he admitted that there is still much to be accomplished. 

In an exclusive interview with Latinos Post, Rep. Hinojosa discussed the progress Latinos have made since he began working in Congress and what he believes needs to be done to continue the upward trend.

“I believe that we have made tremendous strides, great progress over the last 15 years,” Hinojosa said during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) Public Policy Conference last week. “When I came to Congress, back in January of 1997, Hispanic serving institutions were the colleges that were probably receiving at least two-thirds of all the [Latino] students going to college. I have seen [that] those numbers have just grown tremendously because of the work of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.”

The CHCI, which announced on Monday that it had received a seven-figure donation to continue its education and job-training programs, works to train Latino students and young professionals to become involved in leadership positions. But, according to Hinojosa, the CHCI is not the only one helping young Latinos reach higher education.

When he first began his work on education and Latinos, Hinojosa said that the federal government was only setting aside $10 million a year to help recruit Latinos and Latinas to higher education. However, that number has increased to $221 million a year, he said. Hinojosa credited the Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 for boosting the investment in Latino education, noting that the funds were “bigger than the G.I. Bill of 1944.”

The increase in federal funds for education has resulted in a higher number of Latinos reaching higher education. A 2012 Pew Research study reported that Hispanics reached a record 16.5 percent share in enrollment in four-year colleges in 2011. According to Pew, Hispanics also represent 25.2 percent of students enrolled in two-year colleges.

The growth in enrollment is not only a reflection of higher Latino populations, but a higher percentage of high school graduation rates. According to Pew, “76.3 percent of all Hispanics ages 18 to 24 had a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) degree in 2011, up from 72.8 percent in 2010. And among these high school completers, a record share--nearly half (45.6 percent)--is enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges.”

“We also have more Latinos going to postgraduate studies, getting masters in different fields and also enlisting and enrolling into the doctoral programs,” Hinojosa said. “So it is my opinion that we have made great progress and we’re going to continue to do that.”

But there’s more to do, Hinojosa said, and “it has to start with the children.” The veteran congressman said that parents should start reading to their children when they’re infants. “Read to them so that they can love books. That they can let their minds grow and expand and dream. So that they can learn how to read at such an early age that by the time they go to kindergarten, that they know how to read, they know how to peck on a computer and tell you what they read in very short sentences.”

“That is the secret,” he noted. “Early reading plus writing equals success in school.”

Hinojosa added that investments also need to be made in teachers to allow them “to do the best they can with all the information technology that’s in their hands now.”

“Those are the kinds of investments that then make students be college ready,” the 73-year-old congressman said. “Once they’re college ready, we can assure them a Pell Grant, a low interest college loan and, of course, scholarships that will help them get enrolled in college and that there be a bigger increase in success of graduation.”

“Those are the kinds of things we have to work on and we have to do it together.”

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