In IL, an Opportunity Afforded to those who DREAM of College.

Each fall, I teach juniors and seniors how to apply for college.  They learn how to find a higher education institution that fits them, and how to how to choose a major.  They write essays for scholarships and complete applications for financial aid.

Unfortunately, there has always been two sets of standards, or rules I have had to teach:  rules for applicants who are US citizens, and rules for applicants who are undocumented.  It is often an emotional discussion, sometimes fraught with students’ tears:  a realization of the political realities of economics and education, and dreams – once again – deferred.  Needless to say, the topic must be broached sensitively from an educator’s stand-point.

However, it seems I may soon get to update how I teach this.

This past week, the IL Senate passed a state version of the DREAM Act, which, since 2001, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.  The original Development, Relief and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act called for allowing children of undocumented families to “earn” U.S. citizenship by graduating from college, or serving in the military.

Currently, in all except 10 states, the only way undocumented immigrants can attend college is by attending a private institution as a “foreign exchange student,” an expensive alternative out-of-reach for most immigrant families.  The national DREAM Act would allow all students to apply for federal financial aid.

However, it would also require all males to register for selective service.   The 2008 version of the DREAM Act was tacked on to the Dept. Defense Authorization Bill when Comprehensive Immigration Reform failed in 2007.  It changed the tone of the bill entirely.  Were immigrant youth more valuable to society as college graduates, or soldiers on the front lines?

With the addition of the “selective service” clause, the majority of young people who would benefit from the DREAM legislation would not go on to higher ed, but would rather apply for military service, making the bill a “de facto draft law for Brown people,” as a teacher colleague described.  I found myself against a bill I used to be for.

However, Illinois’ incarnation of the DREAM Act is a step in the right direction.  While it doesn’t provide any public funding for the nearly 112,000 undocumented students, the bill establishes an “DREAM Fund,” under the governance of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) with a committee charged with fundraising from private institutions and training high school counselors in higher education needs of undocumented students.  The requirements for applying for the DREAM Funds: living in and graduated from a high school in IL, and have at least one parent who is an immigrant.

I have students who will benefit from this legislation.  Some of whom have been marching in the streets of Chicago yearly since the 2006 immigration rally for immigration reform.  These are students who have dreamed of going to college-their grades, ACT, and service-learning hours are all there-but not their citizenship.  If this bill passes in the House intact, then I can imagine they may be cheering in the streets of Chicago very soon.

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4 responses to “In IL, an Opportunity Afforded to those who DREAM of College.

  1. This is a really timely topic and a very important step forward for students (and teachers and families) in Illinois. A systemic solution IS the answer to make college a reality for undocumented students.

    If I could riff on the college issue as it pertains to students with disabilities, I’d really like to see what teachers think of the tremendous problem of postsecondary options for students with disabilities whose learning processes may not fit with what is expected of so-called “college-bound” students (and frankly, when I see”college-bound” I picture students literally tied with rope to, say, the spires at U of C). Anyway, the only real reform option I have heard that is even viable for students who, particularly if their disabilities are developmental/intellectual, will not qualify for most colleges, is that proposed by Harvard professor Tom Hehir and piloted in Massachusetts. That is, have students do their normal academic work, whatever that may be, until two years before they graduate, up to age 20. Then, they can spend two years in classes that promote life skills such as learning to apply for and keep a job, how to rent an apartment, how to handle medical appointments, how to establish a social routine, how to do housekeeping, how to manage money. If CPS were to look at this as a real transition experience, we might see better outcomes for students with intellectual disabilities and possibly also those with emotional or behavioral disabilities since that group of students actually has the worst outcomes of all.. In other words, an awful lot sof students need some frigging street smarts.

    Regardless of the type of disability, high schools also need to know that students with disabilities who DO attend college must be prepared to self-advocate from day 1. No case workers at college, kids. They make you swing the ropes yourself. Practicing self-advocacy in an educational setting has to happen as early as possible.

    If enough energy and activism were as focused on this issue as it has been on the DREAM campaign, we might actually be getting somewhere in outcomes for students with disabilities. As it is, I applaud Illinois’ work on the DREAM issue and see it as a lesson that political power CAN make things better for young people who want to get ahead in life.

  2. This topic is near and dear to my heart. I have signed petitions and have marched to move legislation like this since it first made national headlines.
    I’m hoping IL will end up with a reasonable version of the Act that actually benefits the students in need.

    Regarding the national DREAM Act, while I am troubled about what seems to be a lean toward compulsory service, calling the Act a “de facto draft law for Brown people,” ignores that- 1. undocumented students come from all parts of the world AND 2. as part of our normal legalization process, males over 18 are ALREADY asked to sign-up for Selective Service (along w/ their male citizen counterparts).

    I hope that what comes out of the IL House, will simplify how you teach ALL of your students about applying for college.

  3. while this is only a small step- the private funds will only be a drop in the bucket for what our students need to truly afford college. it is a victory. and there is room for long-term positive aspects via new CPDU credit for immigration issues, new certification processes for counselors, and possibly getting allies on the 9-member board which will (hopefully) guide the positive implementation of these new tools.

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