For young high school graduates in North Carolina who were brought to the country illegally when they were children, there are few realistic options for higher education in the state they know as home.
High out-of-state tuition rates are largely a barrier to a four-year degree, though some work their way through community college – often for years at a time – while paying the out-of-state tab. They are not eligible for more affordable, in-state tuition rates.
Now a new national scholarship fund is offering up to $20,000 a year to students who enroll at Eastern Connecticut State University or Delaware State University – two colleges that have agreed to make room for immigrant students who live in states where they are effectively locked out of a college education. Students in North Carolina and 15 other states are eligible for the privately funded Opportunity Scholarship, which will cover most of their educational and living expenses.
The scholarships are offered by TheDream.US, an organization whose founders include Don Graham, former publisher and chairman of The Washington Post. The students are commonly known as DREAMers because they meet the qualifications of the DREAM Act, which was introduced but not passed in Congress.
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A representative of TheDream.US met with potential applicants Monday in Raleigh and Charlotte. The organization estimates that North Carolina has 25,000 young people who meet the requirements of having applied to the federal government for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, or Temporary Protective Status. That’s the most of any state that does not provide in-state tuition to DREAMers.
About 500 scholarships will be awarded, starting with about 100 this fall. Students have to apply by June 9 at www.thedream.us/opportunityscholarship. Applicants must have a high school grade point average of 2.8 or higher. They cannot be currently enrolled in college and they must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16.
“Education is an American value; we should help every student who has worked hard,” Graham said in a news release announcing the awards last week.
The new scholarship was made possible in part through a $30 million gift from an anonymous donor, said Gaby Pacheco, program director for TheDream.US.
Pacheco told students in Raleigh on Monday that if accepted, they would work with a college adviser in Delaware or Connecticut to help them adjust to a new environment far away from home. “Our hope is to send a community of people together,” she assured them.
Carlos Sanchez, 23, of Siler City, plans to apply once he is finished with his associate’s degree at Central Carolina Community College, where he has been enrolled part-time for four years. He has paid about $4,000 a semester there, and had no hope of affording a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. He took one semester off to work construction, and he also works at a pizza restaurant and at an academic assistance center on campus.
He’s fine with relocating to Delaware or Connecticut. “If that’s where I have to go to finish my education, it will be worth it in the end,” he said.
Estefanny Perez, 19, of Knightdale graduated from high school last year and got accepted at Meredith College, where she was offered a scholarship for $16,000 a year. But she would have had to pay about $20,000 a year, and that was still too much. For now, she’s working at Home Depot.
“It’s the only thing you can do,” she said of the new scholarship. “I don’t want to keep waiting, and if the opportunity is there, why not take it?”
It’s a no-brainer, added Victor Hernandez, 22, who has taken out loans to pay for community college classes. He wants to major in criminal justice and join the military.
“I’m a fighter,” he said. “I’m going to apply. If I don’t get it, I’m going to apply next year. I got to find a way.”