Originally Published by Mercury News
More than 100 undocumented students from the Bay Area will have the chance to go to college this fall thanks in part to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.
Over the last several years, the couple has given millions of dollars through their Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative to TheDream.US, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that awards scholarships to undocumented students. This year, the organization will award 139 four-year scholarships worth $3.4 million to local students, part of an effort to send 400 undocumented immigrants from the Bay Area to colleges in the region by 2020.
“We truly believe that an education is so important for people to be able to contribute to this community and this nation,” said Tania Wilcox, the organization’s program director for college partnerships.
“Dreamers,” as they are often called, were brought to the United States as children and many attended local schools. Most come from low-income families and say they want to pursue higher education. But they aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, many private scholarships or federal work-study programs, meaning many would-be students find themselves priced out of college.
That would have been the case for Alejandro Bautista Zugaide. The native of Mexico came to Oakland as a preteen and graduated from CSU East Bay this spring with a bachelor’s in business and a minor in Latino studies. But until he received a scholarship through TheDream.US, he was planning on stopping his studies after getting an associate’s degree. Now he’s planning to earn a master’s and work as a counselor at a university.
“Why would we want to waste that talent?” Wilcox said.
Bautista Zugaide, who has four brothers and a sister, still worked his way through college, but the money helped him work a part-time job and enroll as a full-time student instead of the other way around.
“If I wouldn’t have achieved a four-year degree, I would have just been working at another restaurant or someplace,” he said. “That goes to say, I wouldn’t have been challenged to reach my full potential.”
When students feel supported and know someone is investing in them, they are going to make it count, said Mary Papazian, president of San Jose State University, which is set to receive more than 40 of the scholarship recipients in the fall.
TheDream.US has only been around a few years, but initial data shows that about 85 percent of the scholarship recipients have stayed in school or graduated, a better-than-average persistence rate. “They have a real sense of drive and purpose,” Papazian said. “With just a little support, it’s really incredible what they can do.”
Beyond easing financial burdens, the scholarships give students the ability to take some of the time they would have spent working and devote it to getting involved on campus instead.
Bautista Zugaide, 25, helped develop a resource center for undocumented students on his campus. “It helped me focus a little bit more on my studies and be a little more involved,” he said.
The organization has also prompted local universities to share ideas for supporting undocumented students, said Pablo Reguerin, assistant vice provost for student success at UC Santa Cruz, which receives TheDream.US scholarship recipients. “You feel like you’re better equipped to address the changing demographics and the varying needs that students bring in,” he said.
TheDream.US had been concerned that President Donald Trump’s election and the fear it created among undocumented immigrants might deter students from applying. But, program director Gaby Pacheco said, some 9,000 started the application, with roughly a third completing it. “Even in the face of fear, even in the face of a lot of uncertainty,” she said, “they just push forward.”
No matter what happens in the future, Wilcox said, “no one can take away the education that these scholars receive.”
Read more: www.mercurynews.com/2017/06/29/zuckerberg-chan-to-help-send-local-undocumented-students-to-college/