UC Berkeley opens California DREAM Act scholarship

The UC Berkeley Financial Aid and Scholarships Office released the scholarship application for students who would receive private financial aid under the first part of the California DREAM Act starting January 2012.

The $8,000 Berkeley Undergraduate Dream Act Scholarship — which was formed after Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 130 in July — will be awarded to students attending the University of California with financial need and a 3.0 grade point average who qualify for in-state tuition under AB 540.

There are 440 AB 540 students on campus, according to the campus Office of the Registrar, but Rachelle Feldman, acting assistant vice chancellor and director of financial aid and scholarships, said she only expects between 100 and 200 applications.

The scholarship will heavily depend upon general gift and endowment funds made to the campus by private donors. The funds, which currently amount to about $2 million, will be returned to the general scholarship population after the California DREAM Act scholarships are awarded, according to Feldman.

Although an additional endowment fund to support undocumented students was created by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in August, it has not reported any earnings to the financial aid office, according to Feldman.

“We’re not quite sure what’s happening with that fund yet, but we’re very hopeful,” Feldman said.

Ju Hong, an undocumented UC Berkeley senior and a CalSERVE senator, said the scholarship would open many doors to higher education for undocumented students.

“The AB 130 scholarship is a big torch for AB 540 students because these students have to often take a year or two off for financial difficulties obviously because they can’t get financial aid and scholarships,” Hong said. “It will take a load off their shoulders for tuition fees.”

The scholarship will help with the recruitment and retention of students at UC Berkeley, said Gladys Castro, co-chair of the student group Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education.

But some students said the 3.0 grade point average requirement might have a hindering effect on scholarship applicants.

“AB 540 students usually work two jobs and take care of family and have to deal with psychological distress, and getting 3.0 for AB 540 students is not easy,” Hong said. “But the financial office mentioned that even if you don’t have a 3.0 GPA, you are still encouraged to apply. So everyone has a chance to apply and receive $8,000 based on financial need.”

For freshmen who entered this fall, however, the scholarship board will consider their incoming high school GPA instead, since this semester’s grades will not be available until next year.

Students who apply by the priority deadline of Nov. 30 would be awarded the scholarship by the end of this calendar year, according to Feldman.

About 800 students in the UC system will qualify for awards under both parts of the California DREAM Act, according to Steve Montiel, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President.

“We’re certainly hoping that (the scholarship) will make their lives a lot easier,” Feldman said. “For a group that has already had to overcome a lot of obstacles, we think that will make a significant difference in their ability to juggle their education and supporting themselves, because we want all students to be focused on their education.”