TheDream.US Challenges Philanthropists to Raise More than $30 Million for Undocumented Students

Posted By Abby Perkins on May 29, 2015 at 11:31 am
TheDream.US Challenges Philanthropists to Raise More than $30 Million for Undocumented Students

TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented students, recently challenged philanthropists nationwide to help them raise more than $30 million in higher education funding for immigrant students who have received DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

The campaign, called “I’m In,” has already reached $30 million in funding, thanks to $15 million donations from TheDream.US co-founder (and former owner of the Washington Post) Donald E. Graham and The Pershing Square Foundation co-founder Bill Ackman. The initial $30 million will provide 1,200 DACA students, or DREAMers, with $25,000 scholarships to any of TheDream.US’ partner colleges.

Though it was just founded last year, TheDream.US has already provided millions in funding to undocumented students. In fact, Graham and Ackman made their recent pledges at an event honoring more than 300 CUNY students who have received more than $5 million in scholarships from the organization. At the event, Graham told the audience, “One can do many things with charitable contributions. There has never been a more impressive time for charitable giving in America, starting with Bill and Melinda Gates and going on to many others whose dream is to change the world. How can we change the world? I will be betting on DREAMers.” Ackman added, “My great grandparents were immigrants to this country and ultimately paved the way for my parents and me to get a wonderful education. I am delighted to be able to pay it forward by expanding The Pershing Square Foundation’s partnership with TheDream.US.”

TheDream.US was founded by Graham, along with his wife, journalist Amanda Bennett, activist and philanthropist Henry Muñoz III, and former U.S. Secrtary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. The organization covers the complete cost of a college degree for DREAMers who are DACA eligible and maintain a 3.0 GPA, as well as enroll in school full-time.

The need for funding for undocumented students

An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Many of them want to go on to college – however, they’re not eligible for federal financial aid, making it difficult for them to attain higher education.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, these DREAMers are “largely raised in this country and therefore share much in common with second-generation Americans.  These students are culturally American, growing up here and often having little attachment to their country of birth.  They tend to be bicultural and fluent in English.  Many don’t even know that they are undocumented immigrants until they apply for a driver’s license or college, and then learn they lack Social Security numbers and other necessary legal documents.” Professor Roberto Gonzalez of the University of Washington is quoted by the Center as saying that undocumented students are “honor roll students, athletes, class presidents, valedictorians, and aspiring teachers, engineers, and doctors.”

However, only between 5 and 10 percent of these students end up going on to higher education – either because of cost, or because universities will not allow them to enroll. Organizations like TheDream.US and others attempt to reduce those barriers to entry, allowing more DREAMers to attend college and go on to contribute to their communities. And the benefits of attending college are undeniable: according to a 2008 Arizona State study, individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $750,000 more over the course of their lifetime than those who only have high school diplomas, and experience significantly lower unemployment. This allows them to then contribute at a much higher level to the economy, buying houses, investing in education, starting businesses and more.

Other options

While TheDream.US has made recent headlines for its “I’m In” campaign, there are other organizations that work equally hard to provide educational funding for undocumented students. Golden Door Scholars, a Fort Mill, S.C.-based nonprofit, provides DREAMers with both college scholarships and internship and career opportunities (full disclosure: Golden Door Scholars founder Ric Elias is also the CEO of Red Ventures, which invests in GoodCall). Golden Door Scholars works in much the same way as TheDream.US, providing full scholarships for students who attend approved schools. Current Golden Door Scholars attend Wake Forest University, Davidson College, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

Kacey Grantham, executive director of Golden Door Scholars, says, “Thousands of college-ready undocumented students face overwhelming financial barriers to college access and economic mobility because they do not qualify for in-state tuition, federal loans and most scholarships. We continue to be overwhelmed by the number of outstanding applicants from across the country, whose potential is going unrealized due to a lack of affordable college options. At Golden Door Scholars, we believe that these talented, capable kids deserve the chance to create better lives for themselves and their families.”

The future of financial aid for undocumented students remains uncertain- while some states are pushing to expand funding for DREAMers, others are considering repealing it. However, one thing is clear: undocumented students play an important role our education system, workforce and economy. As organizations like TheDream.US and Golden Door Scholars expand and provide more scholarships to DREAMers in need, that role will only continue to grow.

Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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