Hundreds of high schoolers are one step closer to college after schools awarded nearly $9 million in scholarships at the Hispanic Youth Leadership Summit on Wednesday.
Over 800 students from 35 different high schools showed up to the College of Idaho campus for the summit, an annual event held to help prepare Latinx students for life after high school.
Hosted by the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs (ICHA), the event included a college and career fair, workshops led by local leaders and a record scholarship ceremony.
Wednesday’s event was the last in the 2022 summit series. ICHA hosted two others over the past month – one in Twin Falls and another in Pocatello. Over 2,000 students participated across all three events.
The summit started at the Caldwell YMCA in 2005, with just 50 students.
The goal was to reach students who weren’t typically included in college recruitment efforts, said J.J. Saldaña, Community Resource Development Specialist for ICHA.
As word spread over time, ICHA added events in Eastern Idaho and the Magic Valley. After surpassing enrollment expectations by hundreds of students this year, the organization is considering moving to two-day events in 2023.
“It all started because there weren’t resources for Latinx students,” said Saldaña. “The growth shows that there’s still a need, and a commitment.”
“College is actually an option now,” students receive record scholarships
Despite improvements over the past two decades, Hispanic students’ go-on rates still lag behind their white peers.
EdNews reported in 2021 that only 34 percent of Hispanic students enrolled in college or career-technical programs in 2020 – a 6 percentage point slip that was part of an across-the-board drop during the pandemic.
And in 2019, only 18.2 percent of Idaho’s Hispanic adults held at least an associate’s degree, according to the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, compared with 41.5 percent of white adults.
The most significant factor preventing Latinx students from pursuing higher education is finances, said Arnold Hernandez, C of I’s Director of Inclusion and Intercultural Engagement. Hispanic youth in Idaho face higher rates of poverty, and some families hit language barriers when trying to fill out student loan or scholarship applications.
But at Wednesday’s event, hundreds of seniors received scholarships to lift some financial burden.
Most of the 10 participating colleges awarded scholarships. Treasure Valley Community College gave three $1,000 scholarships, and the University of Idaho gave $1,500 awards to 25 students.
But the College of Idaho awarded over 100 scholarships at $64,800 a piece – adding up to $8.6 million from the Caldwell-based private school alone.
“This is the most money we’ve ever offered,” said Hernandez as he announced the scholarships. “Let me just say, you’ve earned every penny of it.”
Isabelle Arriaga, a senior at Idaho Fine Arts Academy in Meridian, received scholarships from both the C of I and the University of Idaho. The scholarships and the summit as a whole, she said, make college more achievable.
“My parents didn’t go to college, and to me it was never really an option” she said. “But there’s so much that’s changing, it’s amazing. College is actually an option now.”
Arriaga says she wants to use higher education to turn art into a full-time job. She plans to major in visual design and business, and is moving past the mindset that art is just a hobby.
“I think I can make something out of it. I really do believe in myself.”
The summit also zeroes in on career planning and job exploration
College isn’t the next step for every student.
Ruben Ayon, a senior at Mountain View High School, says he wants to work for at least a year after he graduates. He attended the summit to see what opportunities might be available.
For students like Ayon, ICHA brought over a dozen organizations to the summit’s college and career fair.
The Bureau of Land Management handed out example resumes to help students apply for government jobs. Idaho Central Credit Union had a “We’re Hiring” sign on its table. The Caldwell Police Department let students try on gear.
Idaho Power, Micron, the Idaho Stem Action Center and Idaho Conservation Corps also held workshops to expose students to different career paths, especially in STEM fields.
ICHA wants to make sure Latinx students have enough information to weigh their options.
“Kids come in with a certain mindset,” said Saldaña. “They think, ‘Oh, I’m going to this college, or into this field,’ but there’s so many choices out there. We want to show them all those different options.”