In the coming weeks, nearly five million public school students in Texas will head back to school and embark on another year of growth and opportunity. Unfortunately, many others will choose to discontinue their education before earning a diploma.
Every year, one in three Texas students leave before graduating from high school, limiting their ability to prosper in tomorrow's workforce.
According to the nonprofit group, Texas Kids Count, high school dropouts forfeit a combined total of $900 million in wages every year. Additionally, this dropout epidemic has created $730 billion in costs and lost revenue to Texas during the past two decades.
This problem is especially acute among young Hispanics, who are dropping out of high school at a nearly 50 percent rate.
The director of the U.S. Census Bureau and former official demographer of Texas, Steve Murdock, estimates that Hispanics could be a majority of Texas's population within the next generation.
Max Castillo, president of the University of Houston-Downtown said in a recent address: "The average level of education of the Texas workforce and the income of its residents are projected to decline over the next two decades unless the state can increase the number of Hispanics and African-Americans going to college and getting degrees."
Our goal is clear: we must dramatically reduce the high school dropout rate, so our state's workers will be better educated and our state's economy will be stronger and more secure for future generations.
Strengthening our schools, colleges, and universities has traditionally been a state and local concern, but the federal government can play a productive role, as well. In the U.S. Senate, I have been a champion for Texas's 38 Hispanic Serving Institutions, which enroll more than half of all Hispanic college students in America, and whose performance is vital to our state's economic future.
Most recently, the Senate passed a measure that creates a competitive grant program for HSIs.
These grants can be used for scholarships, fellowships, and financial assistance to students. The funding will also go toward the renovation of classrooms, laboratories, and instructional facilities, and to support faculty training and development and the purchase of new educational materials.
I believe that strengthening our HSIs will help close the high school graduation gap for Hispanics and give them greater opportunities to continue their education at the college and graduate level. The same applies to historically black colleges. Increasing the educational opportunities and programs offered at these institutions will add to our well-trained workforce.
As Congress works to enable more Americans to advance their education, we must also encourage students to pursue degrees in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. These are the areas of academic expertise that spur creativity and new discoveries, which are essential for economic growth.
The challenge of educating a 21st century workforce can be daunting, but we should consider it an opportunity to strengthen Texas as a global leader of innovation and an example of prosperity. I remain committed to opening the doors of higher education to all Americans, and keeping our country competitive in the global marketplace.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.