Undocumented students received an unparalleled level of financial support earlier this week when the University of California Berkeley announced a generous donation by The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.
The private foundation provided $1 million towards scholarships for undocumented immigrants and $300,000 towards support services for these students. The donation is the largest scholarship for undocumented immigrants ever given to a U.S. university.
Scholarships will be available starting fall of 2013.
“We’ve been trying to identify really strong allies to build relationships,” UC Berkeley’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Research and Mobilization Coordinator Ruben E. Canedo told VOXXI. “We’re a trust-based program where once we identify people who are really passionate about higher education and equity efforts and diversity efforts, that’s when we start asking one another how can our work together to strengthen the work that we’re doing.”
The process for the recent donation began last year when California Dream Act AB 130 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. Basically the bill gave undocumented students access to privately funded grants and scholarships. Then later last year, Brown also signed AB 131 into law, which allows state college funds to go towards undocumented students.
“These motivated, hardworking and inspiring students are an asset to our state and our country,” said Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund President Ira Hirschfield in a statement. “Now that it’s legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential.”
It is estimated that about 200 undocumented students already attend Berkeley.
As for UC Berkeley’s groundbreaking efforts, Canedo said credit belongs to Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, who has become a champion for undocumented students.
Said Canedo, “As soon as AB 130 and 131 passed, the chancellor said, ‘No more holding back. Let’s come together and be innovative and be brave and bold. Let’s put ourselves out there and be game changers.’”
Canedo feels UC Berkeley is creating a national model that goes beyond just providing students with financial aid and scholarships. He said the reason why the Haas family wanted to work with the university was because EOP services presented students with a holistic model. This includes creating personalized, academic pathways that adapt to the students’ needs, working with students for work-study opportunities or internships that allow the development of their professional abilities, and finding job opportunities that will be safe spaces for them.
“A lot of our students need two or three jobs in order for them to pay for the books, their food and commute,” Canedo said. “Many of our students are primary caretakers where a lot of their money – sometimes up to half – goes to support their families back home in the state of California or abroad.”
As far as the federal level is concerned, Canedo is hopeful comprehensive immigration reform comes to fruition during President Barack Obama’s second term in office. At that point, Canedo feels the onus will be on college officials across the nation to help those undocumented students already attending their campuses.
“The question becomes what are you doing to support the student that you’ve already said ‘Yes, we want you to represent our university,’” added Canedo. “These are not special handouts or doing favors to our students. These are students that have earned their keep, are ready to contribute to society and are asking for support for them to thrive.”