Federal policy related to DACA- and TPS-eligible students may be uncertain, but TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program to support Dreamers, is making a major difference at many two-year and four-year campuses across the country.
TheDream.US provides scholarships for undocumented immigrant youth who are interested in attending college, but face a variety of financial obstacles because of their status. Even if students have been protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), they are ineligible for federal grants and loans, and many face financial barriers in the majority of states that have not adopted in-state tuition or state aid policies for certain undocumented students.
The Dream.US partners with more than 75 two- and four-year institutions (including over 25 community colleges) in 15 states and has assisted more than 3,000 students. It offers National Scholarship Awards that cover tuition and fees (up to $14,500 at community colleges and up to $29,000 at four-year institutions) for full-time students holding a 3.0 GPA. Philanthropic and business leaders support TheDream.US, which also partners with regional organizations committed to college success. To date, the organization has committed more than $103 million in scholarship money for Dreamers.
TheDream.US Scholars by the Numbers:
3.56 Average community college GPA
23 Average age of community college scholars
78% First-generation college students
100% Low income
CCCIE Member Colleges that Partner with TheDream.US
Partner colleges must meet the program’s rigorous selection criteria. Alamo Colleges (TX), Broward College (FL), LaGuardia Community College (NY), Miami Dade College (FL), Northern Virginia Community College, Palm Beach State College (FL), and South Texas College are among the CCCIE member colleges that partner with TheDream.US.
Miami Dade College (MDC) was one of the first colleges to partner with TheDream.US. More than 100 MDC students have received scholarships since the establishment of the fund. “These students—the Dreamers—are hard-working, dedicated, and motivated. These scholarships will change the lives of many Dreamers and enable them to fully contribute to our great nation,” notes MDC President Dr. Eduardo J. Padron.
Since 2014, nearly 60 students at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and 25 students at South Texas College (STC) have been selected for National Scholarships. Monica Gomez, who serves as counselor for NOVA’s Pathway to the Baccalaureate program, says, “I believe the scholarship has made it possible for the scholars to manage the financial stress of paying for college more easily and in a more timely fashion. Previously Dreamer students would have to stop out at times to earn money to pay for tuition or take classes part time, which would cause the students to take longer to complete their degrees. The scholarship has eased this concern a great deal for the students.”
The Role of Scholar Advisors
Each participating college has at least one “scholar advisor” who supports students receiving the scholarships. As NOVA’s scholar advisor, Gomez touches base with the scholars at least twice a semester via email, phone, and in-person meetings to discuss their progress, select courses, and ensure their questions are answered.
STC’s scholar advisors work within the Office of Admissions and Records. Upon the scholars’ initial visit to the office, they receive an admissions checklist that serves as a roadmap to guide them through each step they will take, from admissions application to graduation. The scholar advisors also provide supplemental information to Dreamers that covers residency paperwork and state financial aid processes.
Online Toolkits Provide Useful Resources
TheDream.US offers online toolkits to assist colleges with promotion, assessment, and effective practices. Judy Martinez, coordinator of scholarships at STC, says, “TheDream.US equips us with tools we need to promote the scholarships within our community, including banners, flyers, and graphics that we use on all our social media platforms. We also rely on our Outreach department to promote the scholarship to local high school students and their counselors, who play a crucial role in identifying Dreamers and connecting them with scholarship opportunities such as TheDream.US.”
Gomez believes the toolkits can be useful to any college, because they offer practical suggestions and tips for how to help Dreamers navigate to and through college and beyond. Martinez agrees, noting, “TheDream.US provides us with resources to address several key areas of importance for Dreamers, which in turn helps our college to focus not only on the academic and financial needs of Dreamers, but also their personal and professional needs.”
Most Dream.US partner colleges provide leadership and mentoring opportunities for their scholars. In Virginia, George Mason University scholars serve as mentors for NOVA students by encouraging them to continue pursuing their studies. STC scholars are encouraged to join the Student Leadership Academy, an organization that develops students’ leadership and social skills through multiple workshops and seminars.
The Impact: Student Success Stories
TheDream.US has tracked the progress of its National Scholars across the country. They are thriving academically, leading their student bodies, and starting Dreamer clubs on their campuses. Persistence rates are strikingly high: 94% return to their college after the first year, compared to the 72% average rate of return after the first year for students at all U.S. colleges and universities
TheDream.US clearly makes an impact on its student scholars, and many of their personal stories of overcoming obstacles and achieving success are posted on the TheDream.US website. Among them is Carla, who was born in Mexico. She received DACA in 2016 and enrolled at San Antonio College, part of the Alamo Colleges District, thanks to TheDream.US scholarship. “I plan to become a registered pediatric nurse. Growing up as an undocumented student, I understand the patience and bravery that it takes to push through high school and receive higher education. I hope I get the chance to become a mentor to a group of undocumented students, and help them realize that the work is worth it,” she says.
NOVA’s Monica Gomez shared the story of Jose, who learned about TheDream.US scholarship through an information session at his high school. “He is one of the most motivated and dedicated students I have encountered in my years working in higher education,” she says. “Jose came down every week that I was at his school to inquire about scholarships and get help when he needed it. Jose excelled during his time at NOVA and completed his associate degree in fall 2017. He is now a junior at George Mason University where he continues to receive funds from TheDream.US. The scholarship has allowed Jose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration so that he can leave his mark on the world through helping his community.”
A scholar in Medical Health Services Management at STC says, “I heard about the scholarship from my high school counselor. TheDream.US has opened many doors for me. My family and I are migrant workers and, with our limited income, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for college without TheDream.US. It has made the idea of getting a bachelor’s degree a possibility for me.”
Martinez declares STC’s partnership with TheDream.US “a great success. We would encourage other colleges to look toward a partnership with them. The challenges facing Dreamers today extend beyond financial. Colleges that are not currently partnered with TheDream.US can find value in implementing their comprehensive model of providing resources to improve college access, persistence, and ultimately increasing graduation rates of Dreamers.”