Rio Hondo Community College: Rio Hondo’s Achieving the Dream Initiative to Support Undocumented Students

Name of Community College Rio Hondo Community College

Title of Program Rio Hondo’s Achieving the Dream Initiative to Support Undocumented Students

Type of Program Educational, financial and emotional support and access to higher education for undocumented  students

Primary Division(s) or Department(s) involved: Department of Student Services

Key Partners On campus: Students Without Borders; Community partners: Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, Student Groups from UCLA, California State Long Beach, California Poly Pomona (Cal State Long Beach, UCLA); School Districts: Almonte Union, Whittier Union, and El Rancho Unified (total of about 15 high schools).

1.  Need for Program

There has been a steady increase of immigrants in our college service area, and the educational needs of these students have not been previously addressed. Students and their families rarely want to self identify when they’re undocumented until they feel that there’s a “safe zone”. We’re trying to create that safe zone by supporting, for example, one of our clubs on campus called Students Without Borders, which was an offshoot of the AB540 Taskforce. They started their own club for undocumented students and their allies. It’s so important to have allies to support you, because there are so many undocumented students in this country who want to pursue a better  life and are qualified to go to a university but they’re being stifled because of the limits they face as a result of their status.

2.  Brief Description of Program

The Assembly Bill 540 in California was signed into law in October of 2001, with the intent to help undocumented students, who in California are eligible to pay in-state tuition, but do not have access to state or federal aid. Upon the request of the President of the college, the AB540 Taskforce was formed. The Taskforce was comprised of the VP of Student Services, the VP of the college, several administrators, students, and other staff members and counselors. The purpose of the taskforce was to find out: what the needs of our students are, how do we go about addressing them, and what would be the priorities. This phase was finite so one of the recommendations, instead of calling it the AB540, which is definitely California-centric, we decided to call it Achieving the Dream.

What we have done since is to hold workshops with community partners, continue to support the student group Students Without Borders, and to host our first Achieving the Dream Student Conference in April 2010. We had about 150 high school students on campus and organized an educational day with a series of workshops where undocumented students could talk about their educational futures with counselors. Among the topics: how to launch an educational plan, financial aid and scholarship opportunities, how to apply to a community college, and how to get educationally prepared to transfer to a four-year university. Additionally, we are continuing to partner with high school counselors, to make sure they have the necessary information and can enable their students to access all possible opportunities in California.

3.  Specific Population Served

 Undocumented students, both in high school and college, along with their allies and supporters.

4.  Goals and Objectives

 The purpose of the program is to educate, motivate, build coalitions, do outreach, and expand scholarship access. We want to really reach out to undocumented students to let them know that education is an option.

 5.   Outcomes

First of all, we are so proud of the continued leadership work of our students through Students Without Borders. Second, we have built stronger coalitions with Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDF) and Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), as well as with active student groups from other college campuses, such as UCLA and California State Long Beach. Their enthusiasm and partnership has helped us to educate and motivate students here. Additionally, we have expanded scholarship opportunities. In this whole process we know that students affected by AB540 or undocumented students can’t apply for federal or state financial aid, so through our college foundation we have the Achieving the Dream Scholarship available. Through this, staff members may donate part of their monthly paychecks to the scholarship fund. Students Without Borders has also posted on the website other private foundation scholarship opportunities and resources available through the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. And they are continuing to work on expanding educational and financial support.

6.   Nature of Collaboration

In planning for the April conference, the Student Services outreach staff worked closely with area high schools to identify the juniors and seniors who were undocumented and would be interested in attending. We also collaborated with MALDF, which gave a legal briefing about what the student group, Students Without Borders   can and cannot do, and with CHIRLA, which came to talk about the resources they have, and they all talked about the DREAM Act. Also, student groups, in particular, from Cal State Long Beach and UCLA have been on our campus and worked with our students. Additionally, through our outreach to high school counselors, we work to support undocumented young people who can benefit from programs like the Achieving the Dream Student Conference.

7.   Success Factors

The leadership and commitment of our president, Dr. Ted Martinez, Jr. has been critical. He has been involved in this initiative from the start and shows his commitment by allocating the time and resources to make it happen.

And he has remained committed because he knows something like this doesn’t happen overnight. As a college, both staff and students are absolutely committed to this initiative. Especially with the support of Dr. Martinez, Jr., we feel successful in being able to empower students and know that they are encouraged by every level of this college. We hope to continue initiatives and partnerships and provide even more access to higher education for undocumented students.

8.   Challenges Faced and Overcome

One challenge we face is people’s ignorance of the facts and availability of services. A lot of people saw the  lawsuit going on with the AB540, and I heard from a lot of different people on my own campus saying “I thought that was no longer in effect”, and of course it still is. So we have to fight the misinformation out there. All they see  is the headline “AB540 loses battle in court,” and people don’t realize they didn’t get rid of it; it just means they lost their chance to have it thrown out of court. So we need to better inform college and high school administrators and counselors about the facts if they’re going to advise students.

Another challenge is that some high school counselors, as well as people on our campus, don’t approve of the   fact that we even had an AB540 workshop or that we have the Achieving the Dream Taskforce and committee. So that is a difficulty, but, of course, the students manage to overcome it, so together we all do and continue moving forward.

9.   Funding and Sustainability

 The Student Conference was funded through Student Services. The only costs involve transportation and lunch for the students. This is an important part of our outreach activities, and we’re planning to have multiple student conferences in the future.

10.  Contact Information:

 Name  Henry Gee
Title  Vice President, Student Services
Organization  Rio Hondo Community College
Email address