Why Donors Just Spent $25 Million To Support Undocumented Students

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

A former Washington Post owner, a former Secretary of Commerce, and a philanthropist are just a few of the donors who have launched a $25 million college scholarship fund on Tuesday to ensure that at least 2,500 youths can afford college for the next decade. The prerequisite? The youths have to be undocumented and must have been approved for a 2012 presidential initiative, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which granted temporary work authorization and legal presence.

The scholarships, accessible through website, help to fund undocumented youths who are “not eligible to apply for federal financial aid to support a college education” for 12 institutions of higher learning. Due to their legal status, undocumented immigrants are allowed to attend college, but ineligible for any federal and most state sources of aid. Many other scholarships require applicants to be legal immigrants or U.S. citizens. In at least six states, undocumented students are explicitly prohibited from receiving in-state tuition or even enrolling at public institutions. This scholarship would thus give undocumented students more access to the same opportunities as lawful residents.

Scholarships range between $12,000 to $25,000 per year and provide 100 percent funding for tuition, fees, and books. According to the website, students must maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA and are eligible for an additional $1,000 to $2,000 honors award if they graduate with a GPA of 3.5 or greater.

The partner colleges are located in California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

The multi-state fund is one of the largest offered to undocumented students, who are generally unable to shoulder the cost of a higher education due to financial or legal constraints. As it stands, only five to ten percent of undocumented high school graduates pursue a college education. So far, there are a handful of scholarships, but those are limited to students at a particular location — most recently, the University of California system committed a $5 million scholarship fund to undocumented students. Educators at a Brooklyn high school also set up a fund for their students, but they still have not met their $40,000 goal to provide scholarships, which range between $1,000 to $20,000.

According to the College Board, the annual average cost of tuition and fees is $9,037 for a public four-year college in California, $6,336 in Florida, $6,919 in New York, $8,522 in Texas, and $7,255 in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the income for an undocumented immigrant generally hovers at $36,000. California, Texas, New Mexico, and Minnesota are the only states that allow undocumented immigrants to apply for financial aid.

Researchers who studied the potential impact of passing the federal DREAM Act — which would provide undocumented students the ability to apply for financial aid, go to college, and work — found that these individuals would add $329 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.4 million new jobs.