Editor’s note: This column is one in a series written by University of California President Janet Napolitano as part of a partnership with New America Media, whose members include this publication.
We nurture dreams on the campuses of the University of California. We want to make sure every student has the opportunity to pursue aspirations that will shape a lifetime of accomplishments – and personal contributions to the larger society.
We see evidence of UC’s culture of opportunity when we look at the enrollment of first-generation college students, who make up 42 percent of our 195,000 undergraduates. Financial aid covers the full tuition of more than 55 percent of UC undergraduate students.
Yet expenses such as food and housing can affect student access and success as much as tuition and fees, so financial aid at UC is based on the total cost of an undergraduate education. Students who qualify for financial grants receive, on average, $4,000 more than the cost of tuition and fees. And students from the lowest-income families receive an average of $11,000 to cover expenses such as housing, food and books.
At the same time, financial aid recipients are expected to contribute to their educational costs through work and borrowing.
For some students, the opportunity gap is particularly large. Undocumented students who graduate from a California high school and meet California DREAM Act requirements are eligible for state and university aid. But their status disqualifies them from receiving federal aid, severely limiting their access to student loans – and making it difficult to get private loans.
Now, for the first time, these more than 3,000 students qualify for loans through the California DREAM Loan Program, which UC sponsored and the Legislature passed in 2014. This loan fund of $5 million will be distributed according to need across the nine UC undergraduate campuses. It will help level the playing field for undocumented students struggling to make ends meet.
I recently learned about a young Korean American student whose story illustrates why this is such a vital investment in our future. Brought to this country by his mother from Korea when he was four years old, he was a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program I launched in 2012 when I was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now 19, he was admitted to UC Berkeley and received a scholarship that covers housing and tuition. He is studying mechanical engineering, and is aiming to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Another student I learned about, Isais Palma, has a different dream. The son of Mexican immigrants, Mr, Palma was born and raised in Oeanside and recently graduated from UC Merced – the first in his family to go to college. Now both his brother and sister attend UC Merced and he is working in that city as a community organizer with plans to go into politics. He says UC Merced is training a whole new generation of people like himself determined to make a difference in their community.
Two dreams, one shared opportunity: a classic UC story.