Colorado College Helps Dreamers Afford Higher Education

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Colorado Mountain College launched an innovative initiative Thursday to help Dreamers fund their college education.

Dreamers, or those eligible for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, can work and pay taxes but are not eligible to receive state or government financial aid. They can apply for private college scholarships, and in Colorado they are eligible for in-state tuition if they have lived in the state for three years, but for many higher education can still seem like a distant reality.

Colorado Mountain College’s new pilot program, called Fund Suenos (Dream Fund), uses income-share agreements to make higher education more affordable for these undocumented students and others who are not able to receive financial aid.

Under these agreements, students aren’t responsible for any tuition or book fees during their enrollment, and pay no interest on money they receive from the program. In exchange, they must pay the college a percentage of their income after graduation. If a student does not find employment or does not earn at least $30,000 a year, he or she does not have to make these payments.

A few other schools, including Lackawanna University in Pennsylvania, Purdue Universityin Indiana and Norwich University in Vermont offer income-share agreements, but Colorado Mountain College is the first to include DACA recipients.

“The unique thing about this program is that it’s regenerative,” says Colorado Mountain College Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff Matt Gianneschi, explaining that students’ payments go straight back into the fund.

“The idea of being able to ‘pay it forward’ to the generation behind them was very compelling to the students at our institution,” Gianneschi says, referring to a focus group where he spoke with potential program recipients. “The repayments don’t go to the government or somebody else, they are going to the very students that come in behind them,” he says.

The college’s President Carrie Hauser says the school believes its 11 campuses hold hundreds of Dreamers who could benefit from the program. There are currently 10 students enrolled in the pilot program, but Hauser hopes this will become a wider-scale, sustainable model.

Many of the school’s Dreamers haven’t been able to afford full-time enrollment and have to work outside of school to pay tuition without access to federal loans, Gianneschi says.

Colorado holds one of the highest numbers of DACA recipients in the U.S., with more than 38,000 requests as of July 2018.

“Dreamers deserve the opportunity to pursue an education,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in a press 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.”

In its press release, the school points to the growing importance of a college degree to secure a job in Colorado. The state placed No. 2 in U.S. News’ 2018 Best States rankings for educational attainment, with nearly half of adults earning an associate degree or higher. The state also placed No. 1 for its economy, with a growing tech sector and an influx of highly skilled workers.

By providing educational access to undocumented students, proponents of the program think these students will make important contributions to Colorado’s economy.

“The college is not just relieving financial stress for these students – it’s also helping Colorado find and develop talent that it desperately needs,” Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis said in the press release.

Hauser hopes the program will make an impact beyond the state by expanding to other higher education institutions.

“We are hopeful that for other colleges with foundations, this is a model that could be easily replicable for Dreamers around the country,” Hauser says.

Colorado Mountain College launched an innovative initiative Thursday to help Dreamers fund their college education.

Dreamers, or those eligible for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, can work and pay taxes but are not eligible to receive state or government financial aid. They can apply for private college scholarships, and in Colorado they are eligible for in-state tuition if they have lived in the state for three years, but for many higher education can still seem like a distant reality.

Colorado Mountain College’s new pilot program, called Fund Suenos (Dream Fund), uses income-share agreements to make higher education more affordable for these undocumented students and others who are not able to receive financial aid.

Under these agreements, students aren’t responsible for any tuition or book fees during their enrollment, and pay no interest on money they receive from the program. In exchange, they must pay the college a percentage of their income after graduation. If a student does not find employment or does not earn at least $30,000 a year, he or she does not have to make these payments.

A few other schools, including Lackawanna University in Pennsylvania, Purdue Universityin Indiana and Norwich University in Vermont offer income-share agreements, but Colorado Mountain College is the first to include DACA recipients.

“The unique thing about this program is that it’s regenerative,” says Colorado Mountain College Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff Matt Gianneschi, explaining that students’ payments go straight back into the fund.

“The idea of being able to ‘pay it forward’ to the generation behind them was very compelling to the students at our institution,” Gianneschi says, referring to a focus group where he spoke with potential program recipients. “The repayments don’t go to the government or somebody else, they are going to the very students that come in behind them,” he says.

The college’s President Carrie Hauser says the school believes its 11 campuses hold hundreds of Dreamers who could benefit from the program. There are currently 10 students enrolled in the pilot program, but Hauser hopes this will become a wider-scale, sustainable model.

Many of the school’s Dreamers haven’t been able to afford full-time enrollment and have to work outside of school to pay tuition without access to federal loans, Gianneschi says.

Colorado holds one of the highest numbers of DACA recipients in the U.S., with more than 38,000 requests as of July 2018.

“Dreamers deserve the opportunity to pursue an education,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in a press 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.”

In its press release, the school points to the growing importance of a college degree to secure a job in Colorado. The state placed No. 2 in U.S. News’ 2018 Best States rankings for educational attainment, with nearly half of adults earning an associate degree or higher. The state also placed No. 1 for its economy, with a growing tech sector and an influx of highly skilled workers.

By providing educational access to undocumented students, proponents of the program think these students will make important contributions to Colorado’s economy.

“The college is not just relieving financial stress for these students – it’s also helping Colorado find and develop talent that it desperately needs,” Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis said in the press release.

Hauser hopes the program will make an impact beyond the state by expanding to other higher education institutions.

“We are hopeful that for other colleges with foundations, this is a model that could be easily replicable for Dreamers around the country,” Hauser says.
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