The largest-ever scholarship fund for Dreamers was officially launched Tuesday, with the goal of covering tuition for 1,000 students at a dozen schools, including two in California.
'The Dream.US' initiative, with $25 million in funding, has recruited Long Beach City College and California State University, Long Beach as partners.
Both schools say they already enroll hundreds of Dreamers - named after the Dream Act legislation that would grant them legal status. Nationwide, there is an estimated 1 to 2 million of these young adults, brought illegally to the country as children. Nearly half live in California and Texas.
"If 2 million people live here with no opportunity to go to college to get a good job that is obviously a disaster for them," said the fund's co-founder Donald E. Graham, a former owner of the Washington Post.
But, Graham added, "it’s also seems to be a disaster for the country."
Graham created the fund with Democratic activist and philanthropist Henry R. Muñoz III and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, a Republican. Donors include the Graham family, the Fernandez Foundation and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - the biggest contributor, Graham said.
Who qualifies for TheDream.US?
- Must meet same qualifications as those for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that allows young undocumented adults to live and work in the US on a renewable basis
- Must have graduated from a U.S.-based high school with a GPA of 2.5 or higher (or achieved a GED diploma with a score equivalent to 2.5 or higher)
- Must show financial need and "strong motivation to succeed in a career-ready associate's or bachelor's degree program"
Because of their illegal status, Dreamers are not allowed to get federal aid in the form of loans or Pell grants.
California law attempts to lessen the financial burden by allowing some of these undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities.
At Long Beach City College, there are 251 Dreamers who enrolled under the so-called AB 540 category to qualify for in-state tuition; at Cal State, Long Beach, the number is 650.
But Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president of Long Beach City College, said discounted tuition often is not enough to make school affordable.
”There’s the cost of transportation, there’s the cost of books," Oakley said. "(The Dream.US) is a great benefit to our students even in California because it gives them additional financial resources."
Graham said that TheDream.US chose to work with the Long Beach schools because they offer affordable, "work-related" programs that groom students to become nurses and accountants, impressed with their graduation rates and had a desire "to partner quickly."
Which schools are participating?
- The Borough of Manhattan Community College
- Bronx Community College
- Kingsborough Community College in New York
- Miami Dade College in Florida
- Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.
- El Paso Community College
- South Texas College
- University of Texas Pan American
- University of Texas El Paso
- Long Beach City College
- California State University, Long Beach in California
- Mount Washington College, a national online college owned by Kaplan, which is part of Graham’s company, Graham Holdings.
Immigrant rights activist Anthony Ng, 24, said he could have benefited from such a program while attending the University of California, Irvine.
"There were a lot of moments when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come back to school because there was a lack of resources for me to apply for, to tap into," said Ng, who works with the Los Angeles chapter of Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education, or ASPIRE.
Ng said that The Dream.US serves as an important new resource. In March, the schools in Long Beach plan to start taking scholarship applications for the coming fall.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Eloy Ortiz Oakley's first name.