LULAC National Educational Services Centers, Inc. (LNESC)

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Tomorrow’s Leaders Need Our Support Today

Earlier this month, I attended the 2014 Building a GradNation Summit, the annual conference for the GradNation campaign.  Launched just four years ago by America’s Promise Alliance, this campaign is a powerful and growing movement consisting of dedicated individuals, communities, and organizations, all working together on a critical goal: increasing our country’s high school graduation rate. 

GradNation’s goal is to achieve a nationwide 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020.  At the conference, it was announced that for the first time, America’s on-time graduation rate is 80 percent.  As excited as attendees were to hear this great news, this important achievement also highlights the work left to do.  This milestone shows that our country is on track to achieve that 90 percent goal, but getting there will take an extra push.  My time at this summit—surrounded by driven, dynamic people and vibrant, inspirational voices—showed me that this goal is absolutely achievable. The summit featured numerous national leaders, who offered encouragement, as well as individual young people who told their own stories of overcoming challenges.   

Organizations and sponsors of GradNation have committed generous resources toward reaching these goals.  Take for instance, AT&T, a longtime sponsor of this effort, has committed $350 million through the AT&T Aspire program.  Since 2008, over one million students have benefitted from this program, which also supports local organizations working to increase graduation rates in specific communities. 

“Previous AT&T Aspire grants have helped increase LNESC’s ability to make a significant impact on the lives of our disadvantaged youth, especially at the grassroots level,” said Richard Roybal, Executive Director, LNESC. “Specifically, our LNESC programs geared towards increasing high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates.  One such program is LNESC’s Upward Bound, whose services include academic instruction, tutoring, mentoring, cultural enrichment, educational advising, and financial literacy education.”  This is just one example of the organizations working to make a difference for our country’s students. 

At LNESC, we work toward these same goals, through our education centers and through innovative educational programming.  I’m proud to report that since 1973, LNESC has served over 500,000 students, sent 150,000 students to college, and awarded nearly $20 million in scholarships.  I’m especially thrilled that the dropout rate among Hispanic students fell to a record low of 15 percent, and that the dropout rate for this group is falling more quickly than that of any other, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.

Ensuring that more students graduate from high school is an ambitious effort, but a worthwhile one.  Young people who graduate from high school on time and prepared for college, careers, and life challenges are individuals who are ready to take their positions as tomorrow’s leaders.    We’re pleased with these developments and determined to support initiatives that make a real difference for our students.  The progress that has been made so far shows that we are on the right track and that working together, dedicated people and generous organizations can make a difference.

At the summit, I was inspired by the distinguished speakers—including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, and General Colin Powell—but I was especially touched by the story of Jose Madrid.  Jose is a first-generation college student and the son of immigrants, and he’s set to graduate from Georgetown University in just a few weeks.  He shared his story and explained what it took for him to achieve his goals and beat the odds, saying “When the odds were stacked against me, I overcame those odds. It wasn’t simply magic. It took mentorship, it took love, it took support, it took structure and systems.” 

Making sure that our young people have a solid educational foundation is the best way to ensure their future economic stability and career success.  Let’s work to support these young people and make sure that they have the resources and tools they need to succeed.  Along the way, we might even discover that 90 percent is just a starting point.  

By: Elia Quintana, Director of Corporate Relations, LNESC