Last October, I wrote about a local nonprofit that had just gotten started with the goal to help undocumented students in Kern County
get into college by providing scholarships. Named “The College Dream Fund,” it is headed by retired Kern County Superior Court Judge Sharon Mettler and Jim Young
, chancellor emeritus of the Kern Community College District.
Since then, the group has awarded 21 scholarships to local students attending Bakersfield College, Cal State Bakersfield and Taft College. And it has 44 new applicants waiting and hoping for financial assistance to help them continue their education.
Young estimates that about 1,500 undocumented students graduated from Kern County high schools this year. Maria Rivera is one of them. A graduate of Arvin High School, Rivera was among the top in her class with a GPA of 4.16.
Brought to this country by her parents from Jalisco, Mexico, when she was just 8 years old as undocumented, she excelled in school and wants to eventually attend the University of California to major in biology. But because undocumented students are not eligible for any type of public scholarship or government grant no matter how promising they may be, students have to find other sources of financial aid if they wish to continue their education.
“I knew I had all the requirements except the citizenship part,” said Rivera.
That’s where the College Dream Fund comes in, to fill a financial void to help some of Kern County’s smartest but neediest students get into college. “They’re smart kids,” said Young.
Of the 44 new applicants, seven have a GPA of 4.0 or better and 11 have a GPA of 3.5 or more, said Young. The College Dream Fund provides $1,400 scholarships to help pay for tuition and books for one year at Bakersfield College. And people are opening up their wallets with donations or directly sponsoring a student.
A recent fundraiser netted around $25,000, which is half of what the group wants to raise. Students who received past scholarships are also eligible to continue receiving aid.
“The need is really great, especially here in Kern County. These kids are going to make a big difference in California,” said Young.
And if all goes well, it appears there may be some help coming from the state.
Making its way through the state legislature are a couple of related bills dubbed the California Dream Act. One bill, AB131, would allow some undocumented students access to Cal Grants, institutional aid and fee waivers at publicly funded colleges. The other bill, AB130, provides for the same privileges for private financial aid.
Both bills have cleared major hurdles and are expected to pass before going to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature to become law. The California Dream Act has been a pet project of its sponsor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who has proposed the measure for several years. And each time it passed the state legislature, it was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Other states are following suit to help undocumented students by passing similar versions of this bill. The latest is Illinois, which on May 31 passed the Illinois Dream Act with bipartisan support, which means that yes, even Republicans saw the benefits of educating undocumented students.
And the state of Texas, believe it or not, was among the first to reach out to the undocumented when Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2001 signed into law the Texas Dream Act, which provides that all students regardless of immigration status may qualify for in-state tuition at colleges and universities.
Like Maria Rivera of Arvin, these students were brought here as children through no choice of their own, growing up believing they are American and having a strong command of the English language.
While the debate over comprehensive immigration reform goes on forever, with no end in sight to the political battles that are out of their young hands, undocumented students continue to linger in limbo in a country that has raised them.
It is fitting that on this Day of Independence, they be given a chance at the American Dream.
Donations to the College Dream Fund can be made by contacting Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 332-5922.
Eyewitness News Reporter Jose Gaspar is a contributing columnist with the Bakersfield Californian. This story was reposted with the paper’s permission.