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By Kathleen Leal Unmuth                Follow East Palo Alto Today on
Friday, December 14, 2012                            Facebook    Twitter         Blog    
                                                  
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Many elite colleges and universities quietly are providing financial assistance to undocumented immigrant students.

But perhaps the highest profile announcement of support for such students to date came this week, when the University of California, Berkeley, announced that it had received $1 million specifically intended to support scholarships for undocumented students. University officials believe it is the largest such gift of its kind to take place at an American higher education institution.

The awards will begin in 2013.

The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation is funding the gift, saying that it will “level the playing field” for such students. Such students are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, federal loans or work-study jobs.

Many states, including California offer in state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But they still struggle to pay tuition, as they do not qualify for federal financial aid. Private scholarships and in some cases state aid — such as in California –are filling the gaps. The California Dream Act of 2011 allows students to apply for and receive non-state funded private scholarships to attend public universities and also allows them to apply for and receive state-funded financial aid.

“Now that it’s legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential,” fund president Ira S. Hischfield said in an announcement.

The university estimates that the average family income for undocumented students attending the university is $24,000. In addition, about 200 students from 20 countries are currently eligible for assistance.

A news release from the university highlighted some of the students who will benefit and the importance of such an announcement.

“Against great odds, our ‘Dreamers’ have persevered to be here at Berkeley — adding so much to this campus,” said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, in the release. “We are grateful for the courage of these ‘Dreamers’ and also for the courage of those who stepped forward to support them.”

The university already has an undocumented student program coordinator who works with such students. The university is also focusing on addressing other issues faced by such students, ranging from mental health resources to legal services.

In making the announcement, the university also highlighted some of the undocumented students, including the story of Uriel Rivera. He dropped out of the university because he could not afford the tuition. According to the university, he plans to return to school next semester because of new assistance provided through the state’s “Dream Act.”

Jesus Chavez shared with National Public Radio how difficult it is to afford Berkeley as an undocumented student.

“The thing about undocumented students is that if you don’t have the money, then you get registration blocks, and then you can’t add classes for the next semester or you have to drop out,” he told NPR. “So you’re constantly hustling, and it’s nonstop.”

In your communities, are universities finding ways to make college affordable for undocumented students? Are they using foundation funds to award scholarships to undocumented students? Are such students receiving such support in the way of state aid?

 

This article was originally posted December 13, 2012 by Katherine Leal Unmuth in New America Media.

Related Links:

- “Nation’s single largest gift for scholarships to undocumented students announced.” UC Berkeley News Center.

- “Berkeley receives $1M for Undocumented Students.” National Public Radio.

- ”Grant to aid UC Berkeley’s undocumented students.” The Los Angeles Times.

- “Leveling the Playing Field for Undocumented Students.” Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund.