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Graduates throw off their caps following an commencement ceremony for the Pacheco High School Class of 2021 at Pacheco High School in Los Banos, Calif., on Monday, June 14, 2021.

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A new bill was introduced in Congress this week that would earmark $150 million to help Latino students go to college, possibly giving local students an extra boost in pursuing higher education.

The HERE Act, which was introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla and U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, would help close the gap between Latino and white attendance and graduation rates.

The legislation would connect K-12 schools that have a Hispanic student population of 25% or more with colleges that also have a very high Hispanic student population, while providing scholarships and bolstering efforts to provide child care. children, transport and the fight against food insecurity – all obstacles to the pursuit of studies for students.

This bodes well for school districts in the San Joaquin Valley and Merced County, many of which have large populations of Latino students.

The bill would also emphasize teaching as a profession to encourage students to stay in their communities and help reverse the national teacher shortage.

Constantino Aguilar, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Merced Union School District, said student support would certainly be welcome.

Aguilar, who is from Atwater and earned his doctorate in education, said he hopes any HERE law money that comes into Merced County will be used to help students complete course requirements. AG, or a set of courses that prepare students for college admission. as well as providing more internship opportunities and work experiences for children while they are still in high school.

“Students want relevance,” Aguilar said. “They want to see how things connect so they have an idea of ​​what to specialize in.”

According to the nonprofit organization Excelencia in Education, which pulls data from the US Census Bureau, only 20% of Hispanic or Latino adults in California age 25 and older have an associate’s degree or higher, while 54% white adults of the same age have the same degree or higher.

The latest college Hispanic student numbers from the Merced Union School District show that the district is indeed a Hispanic-serving institution, with 28.9% of Hispanic female students graduating and going to college, and 13.4% of Hispanic male students from the district pursuing their studies.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Aguilar said. “We hope to continue to receive support for our students.

Declining enrollment has taken its toll on Hispanic and Latino student populations nationwide, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

For the first time in 20 years, the number of higher education institutions serving Hispanics increased from 569 in the 2019-2020 school year to 559 in the 2020-21 school year. The decline correlates to a decrease in the number of Hispanic and Latino students going to college, the association said.

Hispanic-serving institutions are colleges or universities where Hispanic and Latino students make up 25% or more of the student population.

With the introduction of the HERE law, Hispanic students who want to go to college could get a boost in their quest for a degree.

“We look forward to working with Senator Padilla to advance this important legislation on behalf of our students,” California Community College System Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said in a press release.

Ashleigh Panoo contributed to this report.

This story was originally published April 13, 2022 10 a.m.