It’s a known fact that a college education can be quantified—a bachelor’s degree adds nearly $20,000 to the median earnings of those with just a high school diploma.  Leaders, on the other hand, cannot be measured by a dollar amount. The most famous Latino leader of all time, Cesar Chavez, was not a rich man, financially anyway.

Thirty-three years ago, Ernesto Nieto looked at the future of Latino leadership and saw a potential problem–a deficit of our greatest commodity, future leaders. In order to groom more, he initiated the National Hispanic Institute (NHI).

“This was the 1970s and there was no organization with a method to identify a future generation of leaders and to supply the skill levels for leadership,” says Nieto. “Our organization is one of the oldest Latino organizations in Texas,” says Nieto. “What’s really exciting is that we’re a self-sustaining organization. We don’t rely on grants or sponsors.”

Based in Maxwell, TX, NHI offers programs for Latino high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to help give them the tools to not just be successful, but to step-up and embrace a leadership position in their own communities.  The program enrolls 3,000 students each year and has amassed a total number of graduates of 100,000 since it was founded.

“It doesn’t matter where I go, I always meet NHI alumni,” admits Nieto. “Once in Spain with my daughter, I heard mariachis playing. I had to find them and when I did, a group of NHI graduates had found them too.”

The NHI has grown over the years, with new programs in the North East and Florida and also internationally, with programs in Mexico, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic, for example. Future plans include re-establishing programs in California.

The NHI invites students with at least a 3.0 grade point average to apply to attend summer programs in three categories: Great Debate for freshmen, Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session, and the Collegiate World Series.  The programs seek to develop imagination, creativity and invention and impress upon participants the value and benefit that sustainable polices can have.

“We want students to consider their communities a destination not a place to exit,” Nieto adds.

There’s also a study abroad program to help students learn Spanish as well as the latest program, Celebración, which takes place this year in San Antonio, Oct. 25–28 and brings NHI recent gradates and former alumni together for more competitive events.

Programs range in price from $540–$755 but there are also scholarships for students who want to attend but can’t afford the fee. For more information go to http://www.nhi-net.org.