Campaign for undocumented students could help cover fees

UC Berkeley has started fundraising for a scholarship pool earmarked for the campus’ undocumented students.

The philanthropy campaign was started by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first part of the California DREAM Act — AB 130 — in July, which allows undocumented students at California colleges and universities to receive non-state-funded scholarships.

At a press conference on Aug. 24, Birgeneau said that he was optimistic about receiving support from national foundations for financial aid for undocumented students.

“I was in New York two weeks ago meeting with a foundation, talking to them about the opportunity AB 130 provides to make a political statement about support of undocumented students, and I’m optimistic about that,” he said.

The fundraising program is still in a preliminary planning phase, so a specific scholarship fund for undocumented students has not yet been set up, said David Blinder, associate chancellor for university relations.

According to Blinder, once created, the fund would be no different from any other scholarship fund within the financial aid office. Donors will be able to specify that their donation goes into the specific scholarship fund for undocumented students.

Like the scholarships that UC Berkeley already administers, the AB 130-specific scholarship money would be endowment-funded once a minimum of $50,000 worth of donations have been made into the fund.

Every year, the UC Berkeley Foundation decides to award between 4 and 6 percent of the amount in the scholarship fund, setting a payout figure of endowments that may vary from year to year.

Andy Lynch, program officer of the scholarship program at the Bernard Osher Foundation — a foundation that provides grants for higher education and the arts — said that while the foundation will continue to support UC Berkeley students through the Osher Reentry Scholarship Program and Incentive Awards Program, the foundation may not provide funds specifically for the campus’s undocumented students because it does not meet the criteria of programs the foundation wants to fund.

“Right now, our board is looking to fund scholarships for nontraditional, reentry students and for highly promising high school students,” he said. “While our programs don’t fund undocumented students specifically, if they qualify for one of the scholarships we are already funding, then we will support them.”

Jessica Lopez, co-chair of Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education, a campus organization for undocumented students, said that AB 130 prevents students from dropping out due to a lack of financial support.

“We cannot get financial aid, we cannot legally work, we have limited scholarship opportunities, cannot open loans,” said Ju Hong, an ASUC senator and an undocumented student. “AB 130 is a really great start for all of us to continue to have the same opportunities.”

State Assemblymember Gil Cedillo, of the 45th District and co-author of the California Dream Act, said that the second half of the act — AB 131 — will be heard in the state Senate within the next two days and return to the state Assembly by Friday for a vote. If passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, AB 131 will allow undocumented students at California colleges and universities to apply for over $38 million in state-funded financial aid, according to Cedillo.

“We want students to achieve an optimum level because they we can now say to them honestly that they are equal in the field of education,” Cedillo said.

He said that once AB 131 has been signed into law, he will be visiting several UC campuses to advocate for the funding of undocumented students.

Yet Lopez said that while providing financial support to undocumented students will help ease the financial burden, she and other students still face the emotional burden and stigma attached to being an undocumented student that a law cannot change.

“Sometimes education is not your priority number one because people just need to survive,” she said. “There are also institutional barriers, programs that we don’t qualify for and research opportunities that we can’t take. The talent and interest is there, but the one thing that is disqualifying us is a piece of paper.”

Amruta Trivedi covers academics and administration.