High school coordinators of The University of Texas-Pan American's Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) project learned more about what opportunities await their students as they enter college next year during a videoconference held Monday, Oct. 18.
Representatives from the UTPA GEAR UP program's 22 schools watched the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics' National Education Summit and Call to Action meeting that morning as it was being streamed live from Washington, D.C. on campus monitors. UTPA hosted the viewing party and a lunch where they heard from U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, TX-15, talk about the efforts he and other lawmakers made to pass Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 along with other laws that benefit students.
The local educators also heard key officials from the U.S. Department of Education and President Barack Obama's administration talk about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and initiatives started by Dr. Daniel King, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District's Superintendent, to prepare students for post-secondary education, said Dr. Martha Cantu, director of UTPA's GEAR UP project.
Cantu said UTPA's GEAR UP project already applies many of the initiatives in their schools, including parental involvement and programs that help English language learners.
"I think it validated a lot of what we do," Cantu said.
During the luncheon, Hinojosa talked about the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which provides $2.55 billion over 10 years to Hispanic Serving Institutions, such as UTPA, historically black colleges and universities and other institutions of higher learning that educate a significant amount of minority students.
The congressman also talked about how the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which took effect this year, increased Pell Grants from $4,000 to $5,700 per year and allows students to receive the grants for summer semesters.
Dr. John Edwards, vice president for the Division of Enrollment and Student Services, said the expansion of the Pell Grants allowed 2,000 more students enroll in Summer I 2010 than Summer I 2009 and 1,800 more students enroll in Summer II 2010 than Summer II 2009. Edwards thanked Hinojosa for the work he has done to improve higher education.
"Congressman, you understand fully the economic impact that your work is having and our work at the University and projects like GEAR UP is having on our society, but more importantly you understand the message from our founding fathers that a constitutional democratic republic cannot stand without an educated populace," Edwards said.
Dr. Magdalena Hinojosa, associate vice president and dean of admissions and enrollment services, told the educators of several programs the University already has in place to help its students, including UTPAdvantage and programs to help migrant students.
"UT-Pan Am sits in an area of the country where we can make such a difference, and we do and we will continue to do that, and we will use every single dollar that we get, every single last breath that we have to continue to beat everybody in the state in retaining Hispanic students," Dr. Hinojosa said. "We know the future of the country is at stake and we will continue to do it better than anybody else."
GEAR UP counselors who attended the watch party and luncheon said they were excited to learn about what efforts are being done to help their students succeed in higher education.
"I think it is a wonderful opportunity to see what's going on far away from us," said Evelyn Ramos, GEAR UP coordinator for McAllen Memorial High School. "This was an excellent opportunity for us to gauge where our political figures are standing when it comes to our kids' education."