It’s an American tradition that if you work hard enough, you will achieve your dreams. But for over 65,000 high school graduates in America, no amount of hard work will make their dreams come true. They’re undocumented immigrants.
Undocumented immigrants who want to get a college education must pay all costs out of pocket. There’s no federal financial aid available to them. While some private colleges have scholarships for undocumented students and 17 states allow them to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges, these students are still not eligible for Pell grants or other types of federal financial aid. Immigration reform, a hot topic in current politics, may result in the policy changes needed for these dreamers to eventually achieve their goals, but can their dreams hold out until the government figures things out? Maybe not.
TheDream.US is a new scholarship founded to help undocumented students achieve their dreams and attend college. The DREAMers scholarship “created a fund that provides DREAMers with scholarships for quality, affordable college educations that lead to career-ready degrees,” according to their website. Over the course of the next decade, the scholarship’s goal is to enable highly motivated, low-income DREAMers to graduate with degrees that allow them to contribute to the economy. TheDream.US is “the Pell Grant for DREAMers.”
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Don E. Graham, CEO of newly named Graham Holdings Co. after the company’s sale of the Washington Post last year, is spearheading the scholarship program with Democratic activist Henry R. Munoz III and Carlos Gutierrez, the former Commerce Secretary under President George W. Bush. Among supporters of the fund are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Inter-American Development Bank, and Patty Stonesifer and Michael Kinsley, as well as many others.
Graham insists this isn’t a conversation about immigration reform or politics. He says, “I’m not wise enough to know what is the right immigration policy for the United States of America…I know these students deserve a chance at higher education.” We have to applaud him for choosing the right topic to be concerned about.
TheDream.US has raised more than $25 million and hopes to fund scholarships for more than 2,000 DREAMers, many of whom were brought to this country as minors. That equals enough to provide $25,000 each to 1,000 dreamers in the program’s first year to attend a small group of colleges that the organization has pre-approved. There are currently 12 participating institutions in New York, Texas, Florida, and Washington D.C. and they include community colleges, four-year schools, and even the online school Mount Washington College.
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The rationale behind giving scholarships to students only for specific participating schools is to best help students succeed, even if at first it might seem limiting. Graham says, “Our mission is work-related programs at a low cost but relatively high quality.” President of the fund, Candy Marshall, has said that “we’re not just about getting kids into college; we’re about getting students out of college. You could do this and just give them $25,000 to go to the college of their choice. But we don’t want to put students in situations where we’ve started them in college and they’re working three or four jobs to try to pay for the rest, and they don’t succeed.”
The fund has already awarded scholarships to 28 DREAMers. Araceli Mendez, 21, is among the first recipients. Mendez came to the US with her parents from Mexico when she was 7 years old. Getting this scholarship is her solution to finally getting a college degree, where previously she had cleaned homes to try to save for college. “There’s no stopping me now,” she says.