Southwest Airlines offering free flight vouchers for Hispanic college students

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Going to college is expensive. After paying for textbooks, tuition and living expenses, some college students don’t have money left to take a trip back home.

“Coming from a farm-working family, it’s really difficult to be able to even travel at all,” said Maria G. Alvarez Zavala, a graduate student at New Mexico State University.

Enter Southwest Airlines.

The low-cost carrier is currently accepting applications for its “¡Lánzate! Take Off Travel Reward Program.” The scholarship program offers up to 4 free roundtrip tickets for Hispanic or Latino students who demonstrate a need for travel assistance while attending college or university. The program was developed by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities back in 2004.

“They shared with us that one of the barriers to attaining higher education success amongst the Latino community was that need to stay connected to home,” said Laure Nieto, director of community outreach for Southwest Airlines. Nieto says since the program’s inception, the airline has provided vouchers for more than 1,500 students.

The only major eligibility requirement is students must attend a school more than 200 miles away from their home. Nieto says any student who identifies as Latino can apply for the program. Students have to submit essays explaining their need for assistance or cultural barriers preventing them from attending college. Nieto says students can receive up to 4 free roundtrip tickets – and those tickets can be transferred to family members. Students are not required to use their free vouchers to visit home. Nieto says some students have used their flight vouchers to attend professional development conferences or events.

Alvarez Zavala, who is originally from Idaho, recently received free flight vouchers from the program. She says she had to apply for the program 3 times before she was accepted. She’s planning to travel home this summer for the first time in more than 2 years.

“I’m just excited to, to see Idaho,” she said “It’s odd, but you really miss your home when you’re not home for that long.”

Albuquerque native Jessica Garcia also received free flight vouchers through the program. She’s studying optometry at the University of Houston – a program she says is not offered anywhere in New Mexico.

“Leaving home is just kind of a small sacrifice, for like, the big picture towards the end,” she said.

Garcia says she used some of her free flights to visit family back in Albuquerque. She also used some of her tickets to attend professional development conferences where she was able to network with other young professionals and learn about new technologies.

“It’s sad, the little representation we have at a national level and at these higher positions,” she said. “I think any opportunity that students have to expand their education to further education makes you know, down the line is going to make such an impact in our community.”

Both Garcia and Alvarez Zavala say the flight voucher program opened doors for them that otherwise would’ve stayed shut. Both women are encouraging current and future college students to apply for the program.

The deadline to apply for this year’s round of flight vouchers is Friday, April 28. Click here to learn more information about the program and how to apply.