Taking Action: Advocating for Access cover

Taking Action: Advocating for Access

Helping students from Puerto Rico navigate cultural barriers to education

Since 2015, the Puerto Rican student population at Regis has grown from two to 13. Left to right: Marcos Rivera ’22, Emma Morales ’19, and Diego Roman ’22 on the Great Walk outside Maria Hall.

By Allyson Manchester

Photo: Holly Redmond

Regis Today Spring 2019

Even though Puerto Rican schools have reopened and the island is rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, students still face instability in their public university system. Additionally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of Puerto Rican students enrolling in U.S. colleges on the mainland remains below 1,000—mostly because of a challenging application process for students who are not officially considered international because they live in a U.S. territory. On top of that, students from Puerto Rico face barriers such as language and cost.

Mayra Garcia ’84 is an educational advocate who is working to change that and increase the enrollment of Puerto Rican students at U.S. colleges. She explains that there are many students in Puerto Rico who are competitive college applicants but do not have the proper tools to navigate the U.S. college admissions process. Furthermore, because Puerto Rico is technically an unincorporated territory of the U.S., Puerto Rican students cannot receive in-state tuition to any colleges on the mainland. Often, the sticker prices of private and “out-of-state” colleges seem too daunting for Puerto Rican families even to consider.

Born in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Garcia uses her personal experience at Regis to help students see college in the U.S.—and at Regis specifically—as an attainable possibility.

“Since I had such a positive experience as a Regis student, it’s easy for me to communicate to prospective students how the quality of the education and the atmosphere of the college can change their lives,” she says. “Students often wonder if dealing with a language barrier and leaving their families for college in the U.S. will be worth it in the end. I always share with them that I received excellent job offers after graduation because of Regis’ reputation and the skills that it provided me. Regis has everything that a student needs to be successful.”

When Garcia recommends Regis to students, she feels confident that the university will continue to support them throughout their careers. “For a student who is moving far away to a brand-new education system, it’s reassuring to know that Regis will help them navigate their academic path throughout their four years. Once they get to campus, they are not alone.”

Garcia travels to different high schools in Puerto Rico and makes presentations on the academic majors and athletics programs that Regis offers. She also meets with individual students to help them fill out their applications and locate scholarship opportunities at Regis. For many students, a scholarship is the make-or-break factor in attending Regis.

Opening Doors

The Regis Presidential Catholic Schools Scholarship is a four-year, full-tuition scholarship for residential students. High-achieving graduating seniors from parochial high schools within the United States and Puerto Rico are eligible for this scholarship opportunity. Recipients are chosen based on academic achievement, leadership ability, and dedication to community service.

Graduating seniors must be nominated by their high school principals or secondary school counselors. For more information contact the Office of Undergraduate Admission.

Emma Morales ’19, a double major in biology and neuroscience on the pre-medical track, began to seriously consider Regis when she was offered the full-tuition Presidential Catholic Schools Scholarship, an award for high-achieving students from parochial high schools in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Although Morales was originally drawn to the school for its volleyball team, she ultimately decided to attend for the affordability, health care opportunities, and deeper connections that she saw between Regis and her home community. “I loved that Regis was in a safe environment close to Boston, one of the major health care cities in the U.S. I also liked the focus it gives to health education. I always wanted to get to know and understand the nature of all professions involved in patient care teams.”

Morales describes her family and friends in Puerto Rico as individuals who “constantly strive for self and collective improvement.” At Regis, she has found that professors and administrators have similar values.

“Being a student at Regis helped me to make connections that would not have been available to me at larger institutions,” she says. “Regis has made me feel like I have a voice and that someone will always be there to help me through hardships and celebrate even the smallest of accomplishments.”

Although Morales has found great success at Regis, she recognizes that her transition to the university was not easy. “I did not expect how difficult it would be as one of two Puerto Rican students at Regis during my first year,” she says, noting linguistic, cultural, and basic living struggles.

Since Morales came to Regis in 2015, the number of Puerto Rican students has grown from two to 13. Even though working through cultural barriers takes time, students from Puerto Rico have found that the open-mindedness of Regis community members helps to overcome the initial disconnect. Diego Roman and Marcos Rivera, both members of the Class of 2022 and the Regis men’s soccer team, comment on the hospitality that they received from Garcia during the application process and from other Regis students when they first arrived on campus. “Regis is a cozy place,” says Roman. Rivera adds, “Everyone here, especially the soccer team, has been kind and welcoming, no matter what.” Roman jokes that the overall positivity of the student body has even helped him get acclimated to the frigid New England temperatures. “Thirty degrees now feels to me like T-shirt weather,” he laughs.

Roman and Rivera have already made a positive impact on the soccer team. Their coach, Renato Capobianco, comments, “My student-athletes from Puerto Rico commit themselves to what is important without allowing themselves to get distracted with all of the things a first-year college experience brings. They are great examples of what young men should should be on our campus.”

Regis students like Morales, Roman, and Rivera offer hope for increasing the number of Puerto Rican students at U.S. colleges. “Regis has given me great opportunities and a whole new challenge. I know that other students from Puerto Rico could grow from this challenge as well,” says Roman.

With better access to colleges on the mainland, students from Puerto Rico can gain a more global perspective and, in turn, contribute to the diversity of higher education in the United States.

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