DSU joins program for immigrant students

 

Attending the announcement about Delaware State University’s partnership with TheDream.US were from left, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell; Meghan Wallace, the governor’s education policy adviser; Donald Graham; DSU President Harry L. Williams; Sadhana Singh, TheDreamUS scholar; state Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek; state Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark; and Jim Stewart, DSU Board of Trustees member. (Submitted/Delaware State University)

Attending the announcement about Delaware State University’s partnership with TheDream.US were from left, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell; Meghan Wallace, the governor’s education policy adviser; Donald Graham; DSU President Harry L. Williams; Sadhana Singh, TheDreamUS scholar; state Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek; state Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark; and Jim Stewart, DSU Board of Trustees member. (Submitted/Delaware State University)

DOVER — Tracing back to its roots of serving those without access to higher education, Delaware State University announced Tuesday a partnership with TheDream.US to make a college diploma an attainable goal for children of illegal immigrants.

“There was a time in this country where African-Americans didn’t have the privilege to enroll at historically white institutions but the state felt it was important that those who had been denied access should have the opportunity to move into the middle class, and that’s what an education will do for you,” said DSU President Harry L. Williams.

“TheDream.US is helping those who are disadvantaged earn a college education and when we were asked to help these students who have been locked out of education in other states, our immediate response was, ‘yes,’ an enthusiastic, ‘yes.’”

TheDream.US was founded as a philanthropic organization in early 2014 in Arlington, Virginia, by Donald Graham, Henry Muñoz III, Carlos Gutierrez and Amanda Bennett. TheDream.US set out to break the two primary barriers DREAMers face when seeking a college diploma — accessibility and financial disadvantages.

“We offer scholarships for DREAMers, the children of undocumented immigrants, who have earned their United States DACA status,” Mr. Graham said. “No state funds, no federal funds, no government funds of any kind are involved.”

Donald Graham, one of the founders of TheDream.US, said the students enrolled in the program are the most motivated group he has ever seen. (Delaware State University/Carlos Holmes)

Donald Graham, one of the founders of TheDream.US, said the students enrolled in the program are the most motivated group he has ever seen. (Delaware State University/Carlos Holmes)

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an immigration policy established in 2012 that allows qualifying illegal immigrants who entered the United States before age 16 prior to June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.

“Since 1981 these kids who were brought to the U.S. with their parents have been allowed to attend public school and people on both sides of the aisle thought these people deserved the opportunity for higher education but the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) which was introduced 15 years ago never passed,” Mr. Graham said.

But the DACA policy introduced in 2012 found a way around the floundering DREAM Act. Immigrants who achieve DACA status are given a Social Security number and earn a legal presence to work and attend school.

Sadhana Singh, a 29-year-old rising junior at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., was 13 when her family moved from Guyana and upon high school graduation in 2005 found her options for higher education were extremely limited.

“I was barred from attending the Big Five in Georgia and if I attended a community college I would have to pay the out-of-state tuition which was just too expensive,” Ms. Singh said.

She instead went to work for nine years, dedicating most her pay to supporting her family’s household, leaving her unable to save enough to pay for any future education opportunities that may have come her way.

“In 2014, one of my co-workers heard about TheDream.US on the radio and said ‘this is you,’” Ms. Singh said.

By that time, Ms. Singh had earned DACA status, making her eligible for a scholarship through TheDream.US.

After applying, Ms. Singh was approved and earned a $25,000 per year scholarship for four years. At that time, however, TheDream.US was still in its infancy and only had a small number of partner schools. None were close to Ms. Singh’s home.

With Tuesday’s announcement of the addition of DSU to TheDream.US, there are now 71 partner schools. By this the fall, 1,500 dreamers will be attending these colleges.

Ms. Singh chose Trinity Washington University, from the options available in 2014 and after setting up a Go Fund Me page to finance the move, she was able to start her freshman year as an undergraduate at age 27.

“Some of the students in the program have waited years for an opportunity like this and it’s not uncommon for us to have freshmen in their mid- to late-20s just entering college,” Mr. Graham said.

One of the reasons students under TheDream.US begin college later is a snag within DACA. One of the stipulations in DACA is that the immigrant must be a high school graduate, so when high school seniors who are children of illegal immigrants are evaluating further education opportunities, their options are few.

Not only do many states not allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend state schools (in some cases, even those who have earned DACA status), they will charge out-of-state tuition which makes college unattainable.

“The college counselor has to tell the DREAMer that they are the only student in the class that doesn’t get a grant, doesn’t qualify for federal aid and isn’t eligible for most private scholarships,” Mr. Graham said. “So then the DREAMer looks at the counselor and says, ‘well, how can I go to college?’ and the counselor says ‘you can’t, there’s no way.’”

TheDream.US started looking for colleges that gave DREAMers the opportunity to apply and attend a college at an affordable price without disadvantaging any other students.

“The folks at Delaware State have told us they have the room, and they will not turn away any DREAMer who earns a spot here without taking away any opportunity from another student to get into their dream school,” Mr. Graham said.

Although the first students of TheDream.US scholarship program are just entering their junior year of college, the results already look promising.

“I’ve worked with scholarship programs almost my entire life and I have to say this is the most motivated group of students I’ve seen,” Mr. Graham said.

Colleges typically see a drop-out rate between freshman and sophomore years around 15 percent, but of TheDream.US students, there was only a 2 percent dropout rate.

Not a single student in Ms. Singh’s Trinity TheDream.US class has dropped out in the first two years.

“Sadhana’s story is the same story of tens of thousands of individuals that have so much to offer our country,” Gov. Jack Markell said. “No matter what you think about the immigration debate going on in this country, it’s unconscionable that we would prevent bright, promising, aspirational young people like Sadhana from reaching their dreams,” Gov. Markell said.

TheDream.US scholarship program is available to DREAMers in 16 states that lock them out of institutes of higher education. Lock-out states include Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Scholarship applications for 2016 are due by June 9. To fill out an application or learn more about the scholarship, visit TheDream.US.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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