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Undocumented Students Chase ‘Dreams’ Through Financial Aid

February 11, 2016

Some undocumented students struggling with financial aid restrictions are receiving up to $25,000 for their educations through TheDream.US, a scholarship program designed to help highly motivated, low-income students.

The program is particularly helpful to UC Merced, which has over 300 undocumented students enrolled this spring. Three students on campus won scholarships last year: Mariela Arceo Madriz, Paul Chavez and Flor Aquino.

Students who are eligible for the scholarship are those were born in the United States or brought here as children, but whose immigration status restricts them from receiving any college funding through federal grants or loans. They can receive university or state financial aid, but otherwise their options are limited to scholarships and high-interest private loans, which can be difficult to obtain.

They couldn’t access a single dollar, making it impossible for them to get college degrees,” Program Director Gaby Pacheco said. “We decided to do something about it.”

Dubbed “The Pell Grant for DREAMers,” TheDream.US was developed by a group of founders including Pacheco, with the help of colleges, Fortune 500 companies, and national and state organizations. Among its supporters is Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $5 million to the program in 2015.

Campus Offers Opportunity, Resources

Aquino, a first-generation college student, said the scholarship lifted a weight from her and her family.

It was kind of scary because I didn’t have the funds,” she said. “My parents couldn’t afford for me to attend school. I was excited because I knew this would help me a lot.”

Aquino chose UC Merced because she liked the number of resources she found for undocumented students. Knowing that private loans would be difficult for her to repay, she applied for 18 scholarships during her senior year of high school, and faced many rejection letters before she saw any success. Her first acceptance came from TheDream.US.

The program has given Aquino new confidence in her ability to finish college and join the workforce, where she hopes to pursue a career helping others. She is thankful for the support that she has been given along the way.

When you have people believing in you, it makes you want to work harder,” she said.

Applications for the next round of TheDream.US scholarships are being accepted until Feb. 15. Eligible students must have received approval for either Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and must meet GPA requirements listed on TheDream.US website.

Overall, TheDream.US aims to help 3,500 students over the next decade by helping to pay for tuition, books, supplies and transportation. In doing so, the program seeks to ease the burdens on undocumented students and foster their motivation to succeed.

We believe the cost of a college education should not preclude them,” Pacheco said.

More Aid for Undocumented Students

Undocumented students recently got another financial boost through the California DREAM Loan Program, funded by the state and the UC. The DREAM loan program provides eligible undocumented undergraduates with the option to borrow student loans to help pay for their UC education.

The initial $5 million for the California DREAM Program, equally funded by the University of California and state general funds appropriated to UC, will be distributed according to need across campuses.

UC Merced’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships will be reaching out to eligible current students in the coming months. New students may see a DREAM Loan offered as part of their financial aid award letter for the 2015-16 academic year.

Students who complete the California Dream Application by the March 2 deadline can be eligible for state or institutional financial aid, such as the Cal Grant program or UC Merced’s Golden Bobcat Grants.

Our goal is to expand access to higher education for all students,” said Ron Radney, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships. “These programs help bridge some of the gap for undocumented students.”