(KRON) — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill introduced legislation that would address the enduring gap in college attendance and completion rates for Latino students.

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, co-chair of the Senate Hispanic Serving Institute Caucus, and Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas-20) led the bicameral, bipartisan introduction of the Hispanic Educational Resources and Empowerment Act (HERE) Act. The bill would create a new grant program to support partnerships and collaboration between Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and school districts with high enrollments of Hispanic and Latino students.

“The stark gap in college attendance and completion rates for Latino students in the United States is unacceptable,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “We need to take action to invest in our student’s success and strengthen our workforce. The HERE Act would improve collaboration between local school districts and colleges and universities to ensure Latino students have the resources and support they need to succeed as they obtain higher education.”

In 2020, there were 62.1 million Latinos in the U.S., making up nearly 20 percent of the population. According to Census Bureau projections, there will be 119 million Latinos living in the U.S in 2060. 

Despite Latino population growth, the current education system has failed to sufficiently support Latinos completing college. At four-year institutions, Latino students are 12 percent less likely to graduate than their white peers. 

It is being reported that if this education gap persists, there will not be enough educated workers to fill the jobs left by retiring baby boomers, and household incomes for all Americans could drop by 5 percent.

“The HERE Act is a direct investment in the success of our Hispanic students,” said Ronn Nozoe, CEO of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). “This bill expands pathways for talented students to one day lead the same schools they grew up in through ‘grow your own’ programs. To meet our students’ unique needs, it’s crucial we invest in educators from and with an understanding of their communities. NASSP is excited to join Congressman Castro and Senator Padilla to move this legislation forward.”

The HERE Act would support partnerships between HSIs and school districts with high enrollments of Hispanic and Latino students that focus on:

  • Creating a college-going culture for students
  • Improvements to school-based and institutional practices to prepare students for postsecondary education and to provide high-quality post-secondary support.
  • Supporting students through the college application and transition process
  • Addressing non-academic needs that are barriers to college enrollment, persistence, and completion, including child care and food insecurity.
  • Developing and offering ‘grow your own programs that encourage students to pursue teaching as a profession

Additionally, the bill would:

  • Promote and support PK-12 and higher education collaboration between HSIs and local educational agencies with high enrollments of Hispanic or Latino students
  • Expand and enhance the course offerings, program quality, and overall functionality of the colleges, universities, and school districts that educate the majority of Hispanic students
  • Authorize the Secretary of Education to provide grants and related assistance to HSIs for the development of a model and innovative agreements between higher education and secondary schools.