Latinos are one of the fastest growing segments of the US population. This is illustrated by the fact that today the United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico. When one considers the number of Spanish–speaking countries, this is indeed remarkable.
Over the course of the last two decades, the Latino population in the state of Minnesota has experienced unprecedented growth, with a significant portion coming from an influx of new immigrants from Mexico. The overwhelming majority of Latinos are of Mexican heritage. With more than half of the state’s population concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area, the impact of demographic changes brings into focus the future influence and importance of the Latino population. By all indications, the Latino population will continue to grow. This growth is even mirrored in Latino student enrollment at Metropolitan State University. For example, a cursory review of our degree-seeking undergraduate Latino student enrollment for fiscal year 2018 indicates 310 students enrolled during fall 2017 and 314 students were enrolled during spring 2018. When compared to a mere three years ago in fiscal year 2015, this is a substantial increase of 44 percent and 43 percent respectively, when student enrollment for fall 2014 totaled 216 and spring 2015 totaled 220 students.
One does not need to travel far to get a glimpse of the impact of this rapid growth in our own immediate neighborhood, the east side of Saint Paul, where both Metropolitan State and the Consulado de Mejico (Mexican Consulate), two respected pillars of the community, are situated just a few blocks apart. Just outside our doorstep, both Latino residents and small business dot the local landscape. These small business have taken over once empty storefronts and have revitalized the neighborhood in a vibrant new way, while many residents are quickly becoming integrated into the social fabric of the east side.
There is no question that a post-secondary education is by its very nature transformative, providing the necessary foundation and preparation for a new chapter of expanded life opportunities which include economic advancement and stability. However, educational studies indicate students of color, including students of Mexican origin/ancestry, continue to be acutely underrepresented on campuses across the nation. While all desire better opportunities, a brighter future and chose higher education as their roadmap to that dream, many struggle to complete their higher education goals. For many, attaining a college degree has remained elusive.
In an effort to address the crucial challenges facing many students of Mexican origin/ancestry, Metropolitan State and the Mexican Consulate entered into a formal partnership with the university’s participation in the Institute of Mexicans Abroad Scholarship Program (IME-BECAS). The program is a collaborative scholarship program which has been instrumental in advancing a shared vision of strengthening a supportive network that paves the way for students to thrive three fold: a) improving access to educational opportunities by alleviating some financial burdens, b) assisting students to focus on their studies leading to increased persistence and retention, and c) contributing to student achievement of post-secondary aspirations resulting in completion of unfinished dreams.
Over the past three years, Metropolitan State has participated in the IME-BECAS Program. On March 22, 2018, the third IME-BECAS Program Award/Meet and Greet Ceremony, honoring the 12 students receiving the award, was held on the Saint Paul Campus. President Virginia “Ginny “Arthur and Consul Gerardo Guerrero each addressed students, family members, friends and staff on the important mission and need for the IME-BECAS Program, as well as its success at Metropolitan State. Student awardees also shared their insights about their individual life journey and what being selected to receive this award meant to them.
Since its inception, the IME-BECAS Program has proven to be extremely valuable to all of the 31 students selected as recipients of this scholarship. It has played, and continues to play, an important role in their lives and is paramount to their success. Metropolitan State can proudly say that all 10 of the first IME-BECAS 2016 recipients have graduated, and 6 of the 9 recipients from 2017 have graduated. It is important to note the remaining three students from this group have continuously enrolled and are making satisfactory progress. Finally, one student from the most recent group of recipients graduated this past spring semester.
There is no better way to describe the positive impact of this program and the importance of having been selected as a spring 2018 recipient than hearing from some of the students themselves in their own voices:
“Being able to afford an extra class is amazing and a big step forward towards graduation. I am happy the Consulate and Metro State teamed up to give us – the students – the chance to take this opportunity and think about the Mexican students that are struggling to make their dreams come true. This scholarship will alleviate some of the burden of this semester’s tuition as well as giving me an opportunity to save up for next semester’s tuition. Not only do I want my parents to realize the dream they had for me, I want to realize the dream for myself. I want to show my parents that their sacrifice of leaving the life they knew and loved wasn’t in vain. Thank you again for this opportunity.”
“To be able to finish my studies is just another testimony to never give up on your dreams no matter how hard the battle gets. Life is what we make it out to be. My life as an immigrant has been tough at times but through those struggles, I have learned to be persistent and to always look on the bright side. I decided to finish my studies because I felt it was my duty as a Mexican woman to achieve the dream that many of my fellow immigrants came to this country for. For me, finishing and continuing my studies is a way to stand with and for my fellow Mexican immigrants who often work hard jobs and long hours in pursuit of a better future for their families.”
“Overall, the IME-BECAS Program has taken a great financial weight off my shoulders that has allowed me to focus on what is the most important to my education, and keeping me on track to graduate in summer 2019.”
“I am proud to say I serve as a role model and encompass well the aspect of a nontraditional student. I have had the opportunity to share my personal story which involves struggle, uncertainty, some failures, but a great story filled with hope and promise. I want to continue to be present in the community and help inspire students to pursue higher education, to help with retention efforts, offer support for first generation students, and most importantly help motivate Latino/Hispanic students to pursue careers that are in demand and often in need of different perspectives and a cultural presence.”
“I am proud to say that I am the daughter of immigrants. I am also proud to say that I am the first in my family to graduate from high school. I am a freshman and my major is elementary education. I want to be the Latina teacher I never had. I want to be the face of success for students who might not have otherwise seen it represented. With the encouragement and financial support of IME-BECAS, the road to my college degree will be an easier path to travel. Quiero agradecer a mis papas por su apoyo que me dan. Ellos son mi gran motivacion para echarle ganas, superarme y ser alguien en la vida. Gracias, Y SI SE PUEDE!” (I would like to thank my parents for the support they give me. They motivate me to do my best, be successful, and to be someone special in life. Thank you, and YES, WE CAN!)
“The IME-BECA awarded to me is going to help me lift economic pressure to keep focus in my academic endeavors. Thanks to all the people who made possible this scholarship. I believe in giving back to our community and that’s the reason I have volunteered in two elementary schools focusing on Latino students. I want to be an elementary school teacher to work with our children so they can see that having a degree is possible. I see education as a way to improve our communities.”
As illustrated by the students’ statements above, it is obvious the IME-BECAS Program plays an integral role in assisting students to be successful in their educational studies. Metropolitan State is participating once again in the IME-BECAS Program for the summer and fall 2018 sessions, and hopes to continue the partnership with the Mexican Consulate for years to come.
In closing, felitaciones (congratulations) to all of these students and, of course, to all those here at the university and at the Mexican Consulate that make this program possible. Gracias.