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Alex Padilla and Bob Menendez are leading the charge to support Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the Senate. Photo: Getty Images

Senators Alex Padilla and Bob Menendez join forces for Senate Hispanic-Serving Institution Caucus

Latinos under the age of 18 make up over one quarter of the U.S. youth population.

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On Thursday, Sept. 16, U.S. Senators, Alex Padilla and Bob Menendez, moved to boost attention and funds from Congress for Hispanic Serving Institutions, HSIs. 

To do so, Padilla and Menendez formed the first Senate HSI Caucus to promote education equity. They hope the caucus can help educate more members of Congress about universities and colleges that have been certified as HSIs and point out that some of them have these institutions in their districts and states. 

According to 2020 Census figures, for the first time, Latinos under the age of 18 make up over one quarter of the nation’s total youth population (25.7%).

A university or college is considered an HSI when 25% of its full-time undergraduate students are Hispanic or Latino and when it meets other criteria regarding students with financial needs and spending per student. 

Padilla said the formation of the caucus arose when he was asked by Sen. Chris Coons if he was interested in getting involved in the Senate’s Historically Black Colleges and University Caucus. 

He was absolutely interested, but wondered if there was a caucus for HSIs and if it would be possible to get them to work together. 

Because California’s population is about 40% Latino, the state’s future success is reliant upon the academic and professional success of young Latinos as well as other population groups, Padilla said. 

Currently, there are 569 HSIs in the U.S. and they all compete for a limited pool of grant money that has increased by a slim margin over the years.

Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, told NBC News that funding has not kept pace with the 30 new HSIs that spring up annually.

Flores said that Latinos are still “behind the curve” in creating support for HSIs.

“We are beginning to create that impetus in Congress ourselves, but we are not where they are,” he said.

Padilla said that he sees the new effort as an addition to his work from his tenure in the California State Legislature. There, he passed legislation improving the transfer rates of community college students to four-year institutions, as many community college students are Latino.

“To support a highly educated workforce, develop future leaders, and build a more inclusive democracy and economy, we must ensure Latino students thrive,” Padilla said in a press release.

“At a time when initiatives for inclusion and diversity have become an economic and moral imperative, we will also use this Caucus to support diverse leadership opportunities in higher education,” Menendez said. 

Flores told NBC News of his concerns, that the failure to invest in the education of Latinos will harm the national economy as they increasingly fill the ranks of the workforce. 

“To the extent we are not preparing, as best we can, the American labor force — which is made up mainly of Hispanics in the new waves of workers — we may not be as competitive in the global economy," he said. 

In 2017, the House formed an HSI Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Joaquín Castro, Raúl Grijalva, Maria Diaz-Balart and Jennifer González-Colón. 

At the time, Castro pointed out that the Senate’s formation of the caucus came after the White House re-established its initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity.

“There’s extraordinary momentum right now to make investments in the success of Hispanic students,” Castro said, noting that he has worked on the issue for almost two decades in the Texas Legislature and in Congress. 

Earlier this month, Sen. Padilla supported the launch of the Global HSI Equity Innovation Hub at California State University, Northridge, which will work to transform HSIs throughout the University’s system and the nation to increase student achievement and give Latino students the skills they need to thrive in high-demand careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) 

“I am proud to launch the HSI Caucus in the Senate with Senator Menendez to help promote equity in higher education both in the Golden State and throughout the country. I’ll continue working in Congress to ensure that HSIs have the tools and resources they need to support our students and the communities that depend on their success,” Padilla said. 

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