CMC launches loan program to help Dreamers pay for college
September 19, 2018
Colorado Mountain College is rolling out a new donor-funded initiative to provide access to higher education financing for undocumented students and others not eligible to receive federal financial aid.
Fund Sueños, or the "Dream Fund," is designed to help eliminate the up-front cost of tuition for students eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, known as Dreamers, who often struggle to finance postsecondary education and don't have access to federal loan or grant programs.
The loan program is being funded with support from a group of initial private donors including Carole Segal, co-founder of Crate and Barrel and a member of CMC's Board of Overseers.
"As a proud donor to Colorado Mountain College's Fund Sueños program, I am hopeful that these efforts will inspire others to explore new, innovative ways to support DACA students and others who struggle to make the dream of college a reality," Segal said in a statement announcing the program.
Added CMC President Carrie Hauser, "Our educational and social mission extends to all Coloradans. Fund Sueños is designed to break down persistent financial barriers for Dreamers and other students to ensure we are inclusive and accessible to everyone, modeling the democratic promise of higher education."
Hauser and other college officials point to research that suggests traditional student loan debt can work to suppress college aspirations for many first-generation students and those from historically underrepresented groups.
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Dreamers, who came to the United States as children with their undocumented parents, have the additional barrier related to their immigration status. They're authorized to work in the country, but are not eligible for federal financial aid to attend college.
The Trump administration last year announced the end of the Obama-era DACA program, calling on Congress to create a legal path toward citizenship for Dreamers. However, that has yet to happen. In the meantime, the federal courts have intervened to protect DACA-eligible residents from immigration enforcement.
"Dreamers deserve the opportunity to pursue an education," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in the CMC news release.
"These students need champions like the leaders at Colorado Mountain College and its donors who continue to stitch a safety net in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform," the governor said.
Fund Sueños works by allowing students to pay for college through income-share agreements, or ISAs, where students pay no up-front tuition in exchange for a fixed percentage of income after graduation over a set period of time.
Most jobs in Colorado's growing economy require some form of education beyond high school, CMC officials point out.
They point to a Georgetown University study which found that, without major changes to the U.S. postsecondary system, the economy will fall short 5 million workers with relevant certificates and degrees by 2020.
"Fund Sueños is just one of the strategic measures CMC is taking to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students reach their full potential," according to the statement.
The program also has the backing of renowned philanthropist Walter Isaacson, professor of history at Tulane University and former CEO of the Aspen Institute, chairman of CNN and editor of Time magazine.
"Meaningful changes in American history are not always the result of power and influence, but rather innovation, tenacity and resourcefulness," Issacson said. "I have worked closely with Colorado Mountain College for years and know it is a place of rare determination and imagination."
He called the income-sharing agreement plan for DACA students "a significant contribution to the national dialogue on immigration and economic assimilation," and said it serves as a financial stimulus for the whole country.
ISAs are becoming a popular option for many colleges and universities as college costs and student loan debt continue to rise, because they are designed to align costs with student success and provide an income-based payment option.
The Fund Sueños program will take effect immediately for CMC students who have limited or no other options. As designed, recipients will replenish the fund over time, "paying it forward" to future students, according to the statement. That concept was important to donors and to members of the pilot class, Hauser said.
"The rising cost of higher education continues to be a barrier for many Dreamers, especially because they are not able to access traditional financial assistance," added Luis A. Colón, chairman of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. "What CMC developed is truly groundbreaking and should serve as an example to the nation of how a creative, forward-thinking college can expand opportunities for all."
model for others
It could serve as a model for other philanthropic efforts on a national level, too, said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO for the Lumina Foundation.
"We applaud creative, student-centered funding opportunities for those who are too often left out of public financial aid systems," Merisotis said. "The college is not just relieving financial stress for these students — it's also helping Colorado find and develop talent that it desperately needs."
Vemo Education, an education technology company, will help CMC design, implement and maintain the initiative.
"We are proud to be supporting such an innovative approach," said Vemo Foundation founder Tonio DeSorrento. "We are also optimistic about its potential to change the conversation about access to higher education including the obligation institutions have to ensure outcomes tied to student success."
CMC is set up as an open-access institution, meaning admission is not restricted based on a student's immigration status, explained Debra Crawford, PIO for the college.
Students must show that they are eligible for in-state or in-district tuition rates. DACA students qualify for those rates because of the state's ASSET law, and because they are legally eligible to work. While they can receive private scholarship funds, they are not eligible for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and federal loans.