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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Helping Dreamers Afford Higher Education -- The Dream.US 03-19

Helping Dreamers Afford Higher Education -- The Dream.US

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that, by way of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, non-citizen children of undocumented immigrants are legally entitled to a free K-12 public school education, just like U.S. citizen children and the children of legally admitted immigrants.

It is a just and practical decision. It is morally consistent with the national identity America has always claimed for itself. The United States is a land of openness and opportunity, a nation of immigrants that doesn’t just tolerate newcomers, but embraces them.

As a result of that 1982 Supreme Court decision, an estimated 65,000 undocumented young people graduate from U.S. high schools every year. These young people have become known colloquially as Dreamers, evoking the American Dream. And yet, according to the American Association of State Colleges and University, only 5 to 10 percent of them continue on to college.

Why? There are no federal laws prohibiting undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges. The federal government leaves this decision to individual states, and many allow it. (Private institutions, in turn, are free to admit whomever they want.)

What federal law does prohibit, however, is extending federal aid of any kind to these students. If you’re a Dreamer, you can’t get a Pell Grant, a Perkins Loan, or any other kind of federal grant, loan, scholarship, or work-study payment. Every year, the U.S. Department of Education distributes more than $150 billion in financial assistance to help students pay for their education. But Dreamers have no access to this resource.

Dreamers can sometimes obtain financial assistance at the state level, or through private sources. As the numbers show, however, they are mostly being priced out of higher education.

To address this, my friend Don Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, is creatingThe Dream.US, a private scholarship fund for Dreamers.
With support from the Gates Foundation and private contributions from Don and his two co-founders, Henry Muñoz and Carlos Gutierrez, TheDream.US has already raised $25 million. They are partnering with a number of colleges around the country that offer affordable, high-quality education (around $25,000 total for a four-year bachelor’s degree) and they plan to give qualifying students full-tuition scholarships to these schools.

Dreamers are Americans in every way other than documentation. As Americans, we all believe in freedom of opportunity and meritocracy. By the time a Dreamer graduates from high school, we, as a country, have already made a substantial investment in his or her education. In part, we do so for pragmatic purposes – to help individuals who are likely to spend a great deal of their lives in the U.S. become more productive and autonomous members of society.

The alternative to providing opportunity is terrible. In his 1982 Supreme Court opinion, Justice William Brennan noted that withholding education from undocumented children would only help to create and perpetuate “a subclass of illiterates” that would “surely [add] to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime…”

We’re already providing a K-12 education to undocumented schoolchildren. We should go more than halfway. Extending that opportunity to higher education – and making college genuinely accessible to Dreamers – is the only way we can fulfill the promise of American Dream.

That’s why I am so thrilled to see what Don and his co-founders are doing with TheDream.Us. I hope you will take a moment today to visit the site, and join us in spreading the word about this opportunity for the next class of great American Dreamers.

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