UTPA a partner in new national effort to help "Dreamers" obtain a college education
Posted: 02/04/2014
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The University of Texas-Pan American is among 12 U.S. colleges and universities selected to partner with TheDream.US, a new national program that over the next decade will provide college scholarships for and create a community of support to help highly motivated, low-income DREAMers -- undocumented immigrant students -- graduate with career-ready degrees.

TheDream.US was launched at a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 4, in Washington, D.C., with broad support and more than $25 million raised to date for scholarships that will go to college-ready students who qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program but do not qualify for financial aid. TheDream.US co-founders are Graham Holdings Co. CEO Donald E. Graham, Democratic activist and philanthropist Henry R. Muñoz III and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.

In their announcement the co-founders said their vision was that "all Dreamers should have the opportunity to realize the American Dream of obtaining a college education and contributing to the prosperity of this nation."

UT Pan American President Dr. Robert Nelsen, who travelled to D.C. for the announcement, called the formation of TheDream.US an "exciting development that will greatly benefit worthy UTPA students."

He said the University was selected as one of the initial partners for three primary reasons.

"We were chosen because of the articles I have done urging support of the Dream Act and for our Dream Act students; because of our Rio Grande Valley focus, collective impact and their (the co-founders') awareness -- particularly Muñoz's -- of the number of Dream Act students at UTPA and throughout the Rio Grande Valley; and because of the programs we have to facilitate the success of those students," Nelsen said.

Nelsen said Muñoz has spoken to people in President Barack Obama's administration regarding UTPA and that they had been impressed with what the Minority Affairs Council at the University has done in helping to inform parents about DACA and the process to get DACA status.

This fall, UTPA enrolled 734 undocumented students, any of whom might be able to qualify for assistance from TheDream.US. That is an increase of 14 percent over the 644 undocumented students who registered at the University in Fall 2012. There are an estimated 1.1 to 1.4 million undocumented students nationwide.

Like Nelsen, Texas State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, who has long been both a Dream Act proponent and a supporter of UTPA, was excited to learn of the formation of TheDream.US and the opportunities it presents to help students earn their college degrees and succeed in their chosen occupations.

"Education is key. TheDream.US initiative is a unique opportunity to allow DREAMers to pursue their academic goals and contribute to the future successes for our communities, our state and out country," Hinojosa said.

So far, the co-founders have managed to raise more than $25 million for TheDream.US from philanthropic and business leaders from across the country. Among those providing funding are TheDream.US co-founder Donald E. Graham's family, former owners of The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Fernandez Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Inter-American Development Bank, Patty Stonesifer and Michael Kinsley, and all of the founders and staff of TheDream.US.

Nelsen said that the best of his knowledge TheDream.US is the first program of its kind in the nation.

"On a national basis, this is an amazing new opportunity for students across the country," said Nelsen, adding that the number of people who have donated to it is impressive.

Texas does, however, have its own program to help "DREAMers," Nelsen pointed out.

"DREAMers can receive state grants here in Texas," Nelsen said. "I think that is unique and one of the things that I am most proud of Texas about."

"Other states are beginning to allow students to have in-state tuition, but they aren't necessarily giving them the opportunity to be able to receive any funds," he said. "Texas has openly embraced dreamers because they know these students are part of our future."

Nelsen said the standards for students to obtain assistance from TheDream.US are "pretty high."

To be eligible for a scholarship from TheDream.US, a student must meet DACA eligibility requirements; must have graduated from a U.S.-based high school with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher or at least 2.5 or must have attained a GED with a score equivalent to a 2.5 or higher; must demonstrate financial need; and must show a strong motivation to succeed in a career-ready associate's or bachelor's degree program. DREAMER-scholars will need to maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA and remain continuously enrolled and DACA eligible.

In addition, to ensure the DREAMer-scholars have the support needed to succeed, those who get scholarships will have to attend one of TheDream.US partner institutions of higher learning.

In addition to UTPA, those institutions are South Texas College, El Paso Community College and University of Texas-El Paso in Texas; Borough of Manhattan College, Bronx Community College and Kingsborough Community College in New York; Miami Dade College in Florida; Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.; Long Beach City College, and California State University, Long Beach in California; and Mount Washington College, a national online college.

The scholarships provided by TheDream.US will cover up to 100 percent of a student's tuition, fees and books, depending on demonstrated financial need and the tuition costs.

In December 2013, TheDream.US awarded its first scholarships to a group of 39 students from 13 different countries whose GPAs averaged 3.5. The initial group will build a "national community" of DREAMer scholars will provide support to each other and to future scholarship recipients.

Nelsen said that DREAMer students "came to college not necessarily knowing what their futures are going to be, but they want that degree, so they work hard and I admire them."

"Those who will get a scholarship from TheDream.US have to come through and they have to graduate and they have to deliver," he said.

Learn more or donate at the website www.TheDream.US.