The road to attaining a college degree is no easy feat, as students balance courses, work and other miscellaneous tasks. But for some students, the financial woes that come with paying tuition are sometimes so grave they can put a brake on attaining a degree.
“In my situation, I was to a point where I was so nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to pay for school,” UW-Milwaukee senior Gerardo Alvarado told the UWM Post.
Alvarado — a first-generation college student — is among the 1,500 undergraduate and graduate Latino students enrolled at UWM. According to UWM Interim Chancellor Mark Mone, Latino students are a growing demographic with 20 percent more new freshman in 2013 identifying as Latino or Latina.
Dr. Enrique Figueroa, director of UWM’s Roberto Hernandez Center, says the number of enrolled Latino students could be higher if it weren’t for an “unacceptably high” dropout rate.
“It was clear that a number of students that came to my office were dropping out from enrolling into [his/her] next semester because they had a hold [on their account],” Figueroa told the UWM Post. “You cannot register for the next semester if you owe money, or are on academic probation.
One particular case, in which a student owed $126 dollars, caught Figueroa’s attention and initiated his commitment to fundraising for the RHC Scholarship Fund Endowment.
“[The scholarship] is financial support, but it’s also a recognition that there is an entity here on campus, the RHC, that’s here to help [Latino students] in short term financial situations,” Figueroa said.
For more than 40 years, the center has worked to promote Latino student success through its academic services. Since 2011, it has also sponsored the “Promoting Academics in Latino Milwaukee (PALM) Fundraiser” in efforts to increase scholarship funding.
UWM students, faculty and community members gathered for this year’s annual PALM event on September 27, where they enjoyed comedy, dance performances, live music and more. Among those in attendance was Interim Chancellor Mark Mone.
“We know that scholarship programs such as PALM help ensure a bright future for many deserving students,” Mone said at the event, adding that about 80 percent of students enrolled at UWM receive some form of financial aid.
According to Figueroa, the center has raised $59,000 through its first three fundraisers and expects the fund to stand at about $90,000 by the end of this year.
The RHC has awarded a total of 16 students with its emergency grant or scholarship. While the endowment fund is limited in the amount and number of awards it can give out in a year, the RHC hopes to raise a significant amount of funding by 2020.
“Five hundred dollars, in the scheme of things, isn’t a lot of money,” Figueroa said. “But for some students, it’s an important amount of money.”
For Alvarado, such an amount allowed him to continue his enrollment at the university and pursue his career path.
“I know the feeling of relief when you get help,” Alvarado said. “If I’m able to help another student, who really just wants to go to school, I want to do that.”