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Las Colonias in the 21st Century

Focus Area: Education

Educational Attainment Lags in Colonias
NOTE: Adults 25 years and older.
SOURCE: Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
Median Earnings Increase with More Education in United States
NOTE: Median “earnings” is used as the measurement because it includes only what is earned at a job: wages, salaries and self-employment income. In contrast, median “income” includes earnings plus 41 other components. For details, see the Census website at
SOURCE: Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.

Parents want to help their children succeed but are hindered by their own low education levels, lack of experience with the education system and limited English proficiency, which make it difficult for them to be advocates for their children in school.

A number of local efforts are aimed at developing students’ talents, preparing them for the workforce and helping them become civically engaged. Organizations behind some of the most noteworthy efforts are Project ARISE, Llano Grande Center for Research and Development, South Texas College, IDEA Public Schools and Pharr–San Juan–Alamo (PSJA) Independent School District.

PSJA is known for its success in preparing students—starting at the prekindergarten level—for high school graduation and college, focusing on children’s and parents’ strengths and assets, such as Spanish language proficiency. The high school provides dual-enrollment college courses and has seen an increase in its four-year graduation rate from 62 percent in 2007 to 88 percent in 2014.

Organizations like PSJA serve as building blocks to community and economic development in colonia communities.

A community PTA meeting. Photo credit: Project ARISE.

PSJA superintendent Daniel King at a graduation ceremony. Photo credit: PSJA ISD.


Cecilia Guadalupe Corral exemplifies the success of PSJA ISD’s mission and approach. She grew up in the Las Milpas colonia and attended PSJA High School. Through its dual-enrollment program with South Texas College, Corral graduated from high school with an associate’s degree in engineering. She went on to attend Stanford University and is currently the chief design officer for a medical nonprofit.

She says her family and neighborhood environments nurtured her curiosity and love for learning. “Both of my parents only went through elementary school [in Mexico] because their families did not have resources, but I grew up seeing my dad read every single night,” she said. “He would read the newspaper front and back, along with books. My mom would read as well. …My father would make us read poetry in Spanish, and that is why I grew up being bilingual.”

Her older siblings were her role models and shared with her what they were learning. When her older sister took a job as a creative director at an advertising agency, Corral shadowed her. This opportunity enabled her to interact with designers and strengthened her interest in design and engineering.

Corral distinguished herself in her college application process with her associate’s degree. After graduating from Stanford, she went to work for San Francisco-based CareMessage™, a nonprofit that provides health care organizations with mobile technologies to improve health literacy and care delivery. As chief design officer, she combines her expertise in design and engineering with her bilingual and bicultural fluency. Notably, she redesigned the agency’s communication content so it would more effectively serve low-income Hispanic patients. Corral says she hopes to bring CareMessage™ to the Texas colonias and the surrounding border region to improve health care delivery and community health.