Wells Fargo recently announced an $8.1 million gift to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. For Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Fidel Vargas, head of the organization, to share insights about the group’s impact.
As the eldest child of immigrants who worked hard to provide for a family of eight, I grew up understanding the importance of hard work, education, and giving back to my community.
Despite our family’s modest circumstances, and even though my parents did not go to college, their example and enduring support made it possible for me to attend Harvard University.
I still remember my excitement when I left Southern California and arrived in Massachusetts, on my own for the first time. With that came a number of questions: What should I major in? How should I prepare for the notorious New England winters? And how would I pay for my ticket home for the holidays?
Having applied for a scholarship from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, one day I checked my mailbox and there it was — a scholarship check! I would go on to apply for and receive a total of six Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) scholarships over the course of my college and graduate school education. And whether it meant I could get home, buy books I needed, or spend a few more hours studying instead of working, each scholarship was lifesaving in its own way.
I knew back then that one day, I would pay HSF’s investment in me forward.
Economic empowerment through education
Today, as HSF’s president and chief executive officer, I am as committed as ever to doing just that. It’s a personal honor to lead an organization in its work to empower Latino families with the tools they need to help students apply to college and graduate school, do well in their course work, graduate, enter a profession, excel, help lead our nation forward, and mentor the generations to come.
I’m also extremely proud of HSF’s longstanding partnership with Wells Fargo. Together, since 2003, we have supported thousands of college and graduate students through scholarships, mentoring, and leadership training. We’ve also provided the resources and information needed to prepare and pay for college to thousands of families with middle and high school students. Our 65,000-member alumni network includes leaders and professionals across every industry, many of whom now give back to HSF as board members, advisory council members, mentors, volunteers, and staff. Together, we are committed to empowering Latino families and equipping future leaders with the tools they need to excel.
HSF has awarded more than $500 million in scholarships since its inception and provides a host of support services to students, scholarship alumni, and parents. We are also doing something more fundamental. We are changing the narrative about the strides Hispanic Americans have made, and are making, in higher education.
Plenty of evidence shows that the Latino community is making academic gains. Over the past several years, the high school dropout rate for Latinos has declined significantly from 32 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2014. At the same time, more Hispanic Americans are going to college directly after high school and now make up 19 percent of all college students in the U.S.
Indeed, the need for the scholarships and services HSF provides has never been greater. More than 124,000 students applied for scholarships this year. Although we cannot provide scholarships to all, we are once again on track to award scholarships to more than 4,000 students from across the U.S.
I am proud of the tremendous impact we continue to have, and much work remains. Hispanic Americans are projected to comprise 30 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2050, and higher education will be vital to their success — and, in turn, fueling the economy. Through our support for young Latino students now, we are helping develop future leaders.
I am humbled and excited about the opportunity this represents. And I look forward to continuing to pay it forward.