McALLEN, RGV – Through his work in Congress, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa transformed the Rio Grande Valley over the last 20 years, according to Doctors Hospital Chairman Dr. Carlos Cardenas.

Cardenas was one of several invited guests who were asked to speak at a news conference Hinojosa held on Friday. At Nuevo Santander Gallery, the veteran lawmaker publicly stated he would not seek reelection after nearly two decades in Congress.

While Hinojosa’s numerous achievements in office were highlighted by guests, his legacy will undoubtedly be his work in education, many agreed.

Sitting on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, remains a huge advocate for “accessibility, affordability and student success in higher education,” according to supporters.

Former University of Texas-Pan American president Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cardenas-Flores was mistress of ceremonies at the announcement.

The event also included numerous invited guests who were present to pay tribute to Hinojosa’s time in office. Attendees included U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville; U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of California, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia; Dr. Guy Bailey, president of UT-Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Carlos Cardenas, chairman of the Board at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Hidalgo County Veterans Services Officer Emilio De Los Santos, PSJA ISD Superintendent Dr. Daniel King; and Region One ESC administrator for college, career and life readiness, Dr. Tina Atkins, along with friends and family.

“How do you begin talking about the legacy of someone, whose fingerprints are on everything in higher education in the United States,” Bailey said. “If you look at everything that has happened in the last 20 years, and I mean every piece of legislation; the congressman’s fingerprints are on those.”

During his tenure in Congress, Hinojosa was the key figure to increase annual appropriations for Title V undergraduate and graduate programs, which have increased exponentially. Federal investment in Hispanic Serving Institutions (HIS) stands at over $200 million in 2015.

During his tenure, Hinojosa has also presided over $2.55 billion in targeted investments for HBCUs, HSIs, Tribal Colleges and Universities and other minority serving institutions over a 10-year period.

Investments included $1 billion in funding to bolster STEM education at HSIs. He was also voted for the passing of a reconciliation bill that included the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which increased the federal Pell Grant to $5,550. It represented the largest single investment in federal student aid since the GI bill, Hinojosa said.

“I started thinking about his legacy, and I did some math,” Bailey added. “Seventy five percent of students are Pell Grant eligible throughout the Valley, and when you start thinking that’s 75 percent of our student body who would not be able to go to school without your (Hinojosa) work, I started calculating that number over 20 years, how many people did that affect. That’s more than a quarter million people in the Valley alone. What a legacy.”

SAFRA was attached as a rider to Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

“There is no question that the work Rubén Hinojosa has done over the last 20 years has revolutionized what has happened not just in the education front, but in healthcare,” Dr. Carlos Cardenas said. “More than that, was his commitment to education. You’re going to hear that theme over and over because he is a champion that stands for education that has transformed this entire area. I would tell you that our healthcare system has been transformed because of his work and his staunch support in the development of South Texas Community College, and all of the work that has been done in every single level of our community.”

Honored by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation in 2014, the foundation presented Hinojosa with its prestigious Hispanic Heritage Award for his work with STEM.

“I am very privileged to speak in relation to education because when you hear the impact that Congressman Hinojosa has had in so many different areas, transportation, healthcare, veterans’ affairs, I know that his number one passion since at least 1972 when he was elected to the (Mercedes) school board has been education,” PSJA’s Dr. King said. “He knows education is the key to all the other areas. It’s about having young people here having great educational opportunities.”

“Congressman Hinojosa has been a great champion for innovation, an initiative that is leading the nation,” King added. “That is in the area of dual enrollment and early college work. He has been a huge champion of expanding that work in so many ways.”

“Tears have been shed because I know what a powerful advocate he has been for students in deep South Texas. I know this because I have seen it,” Region One’s Atkins said. “I have been involved with the Congressman first at the Gear Up project with Region One. I am so proud to have been able to work with you and your staff, working on the idea of college readiness for all students.”