The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund announced this week it’s awarded $1 million to UC Berkeley for a scholarship benefiting undocumented students. It’s a landmark move that’s providing students with an unprecedented access to higher education.
In a public statement, Ira S. Hirshfield, president of the Haas fund, said, "These motivated, hardworking and inspiring students are an asset to our state and our country.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."
According to the school, the Haas award is the largest-single gift of its kind in the history of American universities. The expectation is for the fund to initially benefit about 200 students, provided they meet the minimum GPA requirement of 3.0.
It’s a pivotal moment for the college, and could turn into one for universities nationwide. Undocumented students are currently prohibited from receiving Pell grants and federal government loans, in addition to being barred from work-study programs. That means they’re at the mercy of private scholarships to offset what they can pay out-of-pocket. With their median household income hovering around $24,000 per year, that doesn't leave a lot to cover educational expenses.
Mohammed Abdollchi from Dream Activist, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering undocumented students, told TakePart that he and his organization were excited by the news and hopeful it would inspire similar actions on other campuses. "I think everybody can agree that if you have an education, the better chance you have at succeeding and the better chance of the country as a whole being lifted up. And for a lot of us as undocumented youth, we've lived here since we were little. We've already gone through the public education system, so it's just a waste of money not to find ways to sustain our education."
Veronica Arreola is an education equality expert from the University of Chicago Illinois. She explained to TakePart that programs like UC Berkeley’s are imperative, not only for undocumented students, but also for the country’s economic viability. Her reasoning is simple, “The benefit of having more people in general have access to higher education is a better trained, more highly skilled workforce.”
Undocumented students previously had no eligibility to receive private or public aid. But California’s Dream Act provided some access to nonfederal funds for students, many of whom grew up in the California public school system.
In addition to the obvious economic advantages of having a stronger workforce, Arreola says that programs like Berkeley’s have a direct impact on racial and gender equality. “It’s about economic justice. One of the best ways for individuals to fight the wage gap is to gain more education. If [Latina] women want to earn as much as a white man with a high school diploma, we need to go to college.”
She explains that more than the benefits, there are also the ethics of cutting off a part of the population who are actively fighting to make a contribution. “These students grew up in the United States, they’re as American as anyone else, other than a piece of paper, so they should have as many opportunities as everyone else to chase their dreams.
Would you like to see more programs like this close the gap for undocumented students? Let us know in the Comments.