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Eleven panelists participated in a congressional roundtable discussion at HESTEC 2015. Among the 11 were five members of Congress - Rubén Hinojosa, Filemon Vela and Joaquin Castro of Texas, Judy Chu of California and Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio. Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart moderated the discussion.

EDINBURG, RGV – It was perhaps fitting that on the day former U.S. Census Bureau director Steve Murdock was in the Rio Grande Valley to warn of the consequences of failing to improve the educational attainment of minority students, South Texas College issued its new student enrollment numbers.

South Texas College enrollment has hit a record-breaking 34,641 students. Most of the students are Hispanic. Official enrollment figures for the fall semester show a 10.6 percent increase in students over the numbers for fall 2014, STC stated, in a news release.

Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of STC, said it often goes unnoticed but the annual contributions of non-credit workforce and continuing education courses adds a further 17,065 students to STC’s enrollment numbers. The record-breaking enrollment brings the College’s total student population to 51,706 when combined with non-credit students, Reed said, thus reaffirming the position STC holds as the largest higher education institution south of San Antonio.

“The strong growth in enrollment validates the success of South Texas College,” Reed said. “Students love their experience with us and are so appreciative of the quality education, the caring faculty and staff, as well as the workforce preparation they are receiving.  Success begets even greater success.”

Dr. Reed wished the students at STC’s five campuses well. “We are ready for an exciting fall semester and look forward to witnessing the success of our students … all 34,641 of them,” Reed said.

Demographer Murdock, who is a former state demographer for Texas, now teaches sociology at the Hobby Center at Rice University. He gave a presentation on demographic trends on the first day of HESTEC 2015, at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. In a slideshow full of statistics and pie charts, Murdock pointed out how quickly minority populations are growing in Texas and the United States. The educational attainment rates of minority populations are well below those of Non-Hispanic Whites, the data showed. If Texas does not improve the educational attainment of its minority populations, particularly Hispanics, the state’s economic and social well-being will suffer, Murdock predicted. In fact, the only thing that will increase at a greater rate than the population, Murdock said, would be the rate of poverty.

“The participation of Hispanic and other students in science and technology is the key to our future because these are the young men and women that will be the scientists and entrepreneurs of the future,” Murdock told the Rio Grande Guardian, when asked why he presented at HESTEC.

“If you look at U.S. demographics, if you look at Texas demographics, they clearly show that our future is tied our minority populations, particularly to our Hispanic population. So, how well they do is how well all of America will do.”

Asked about a slide which showed that, if nothing changes in educational attainment rates, the only thing outpacing population growth will be an increase in poverty, Murdock said: “The groups that are growing fastest are Hispanic groups and due to a variety of historical, discriminatory and other factors, they have higher levels of poverty. So, if that population is growing rapidly and is dominating population growth, you will, as they increase, increase the level of poverty. The answer, of course, is to ensure they have education they need to be productive and to be competitive. If they do we could be at a socio-economic advantage in the United States and Texas, as a very large Hispanic state, could have an advantage as well. We could have higher incomes and lower poverty than other parts of the country.”

Murdock added: “It is critically important this region gets involved in science and technology.”

After Murdock gave his presentation, a congressional roundtable discussion was held with five members of Congress along with Mercedes ISD Superintendent Daniel Treviño and top leaders from the U.S. Navy, NASA, Shell, and Exxon Mobil. The five members of Congress were Rubén Hinojosa, Filemon Vela, and Joaquin Castro of Texas, Judy Chu of California, and Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio. Tina Atkins, director GEAR UP at Region One Education Service Center, said this year’s congressional roundtable was the best ever held at HESTEC.

“The messages were so succinct and clear. There were great examples of best practices given. It was wonderful to hear from the visiting members of Congress. I was so impressed with the quality of the discourse. They had really incredible and strong messages,” Atkins told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Atkins said she was pleased Congressman Castro mentioned the success San Antonio has had with Café College, a downtown facility that allows students to learn about the courses available at colleges and universities. “Café College is incredible. It is an amazing program.  We can learn a lot from what they have done in San Antonio,” Atkins said.

Delving into more detail on the new STC numbers, the college’s online student population increased from 5,227 in fall 2014 to 5,905 in fall 2015. The STC Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City increased its student body by 11 percent with 1,127 students in fall 2014 to 1,252 in fall 2015. The STC Technology Campus in McAllen also saw an increase this fall 2015 with approximately 124 additional students.

STC began in 1993 with just over 1,000 students. Its enrollment in the fall of 2012 stood at 30,824. Now it has reached 34,641. By 2020 it is projected to reach 42,000.

“Our team has focused on assisting students with their schedules, financial aid, payment plans, advising and anything else they needed in order to have a strong start to the fall semester,” said South Texas College Dean of Enrollment Services and Registrar Matthew Hebbard. “As with all of our initiatives, it is always about the success of our students.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said he has known Murdock since his days as Texas state demographer and Bailey’s days at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Asked why he invited Murdock to kickoff HESTEC, Bailey said: “One of the things I have been saying, and Dr. Murdock’s work demonstrates this better than I can say, is that we are the face of the United States going forward. You see that more clearly in his work than in anything else. It is important for everyone to hear that from someone besides me,” Bailey told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Bailey said the educational attainment level of minority populations will have far reaching implications in the years to come. “Remember, the wealth people have affects the tax base. If you do not increase education and as a consequence increase the earnings and the wealth of your populations, then the long term consequences are very bad for all of us,” Bailey said. “Education is a fulcrum of making things happen and HESTEC is right in the center of that. It is an important event.”

Monday was Day One of HESTEC 2015. During a Superintendents Leaders Breakfast event, Congressman Hinojosa, a co-founder of the 14-year program, said this was the first HESTEC in which two U.S. Cabinet secretaries would be appearing. One is Arne Duncan, the outgoing secretary of education. Duncan is slated to speak at HESTEC on Tuesday. The other is Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He speaks at HESTEC on Friday.

“We think of HESTEC as a great local event but it is a local event of national import and national impact,” Bailey said.