By MICHAEL CASEY , Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — For a lot young immigrants known as "dreamers," the cost and challenges of juggling jobs and family duties often prove to be insurmountable hurdles to earning a college degree.
But now one New Hampshire university is hoping to change that with a $20 million program that will offer scholarships to 1,000 working class and low-income students who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA program. Most scholarship programs for DACA students are offered to attend more expensive, four year programs.
Southern New Hampshire University is getting support from The Shapiro Foundation, an organization which primarily assists children and refugees and TheDream.US, the largest scholarship program for dreamers.TheDream.US provides over $100 million in scholarships to 3,000 DACA students at 75 partner colleges in 15 states.
The university will offer the assistance over the next five years for DACA students to pursue degrees through one of the university's online programs. The scholarship program will cover many more students than the others because the university estimates the tuition is about 25 times cheaper than what a student might pay to attend a traditional, four-year university.
"As an institution of higher education, we are in the business of hope," said Paul LeBlanc, SNHU's president. "We have hundreds of thousands of young people who have known no country but the U.S., but that are denied the financial support that gives them access to higher education."
One of the first students to get a scholarship is Luanna Vieira, a DACA student from Framingham, Massachusetts, who came to the United States from Brazil when she was 3. A high school senior whose parents are both undocumented, Vieira said she was considering skipping college until she found out about the Southern New Hampshire program.
DACA students like Vieira aren't eligible for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants.
"I was speechless. I almost cried to be honest," Vieira said when she heard about receiving a scholarship. "I was giving up on college because of the cost. It was like a sign from God that I can go to college."
The announcement comes as the Obama-era DACA program that shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought to the country by their parents is at risk.
President Donald Trump announced he was ending DACA unless lawmakers come up with a solution by this month. Federal judges have issued injunctions ordering the administration to keep DACA in place while courts consider legal challenges.
The uncertainty has prompted some organizations like TheDream.US to start searching for ways that the DACA scholarships could follow students out of the country if they were to be deported.
Southern Oregon University has arranged for its sister school, Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico, to take in its DACA students if they are deported.
TheDream.US also have said their high-profile funders — including $33 million from Amazon chief Jeff Bezos — has agreed to keep the money in place regardless of DACA status.
LeBlanc said the Southern New Hampshire program "could travel" with the students if they had to leave the U.S. Southern New Hampshire already has programs for students in other countries, including one for hundreds of students in a Rwandan refugee camp.
Don Graham, co-founder of TheDream.US, said that they were attracted to this model partly due to the reach of the program and the potential to expand it beyond the 1,000 students.
The Dreamers "have families, and simply do not have the resources nor flexibility to adjust their lives to a traditional college calendar," Graham said in a statement. "And yet, they want nothing more than to get a college education so they can better support themselves, their families, and their communities."