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One College's Solution To Aiding DREAMers With The High Cost Of Higher Education


Joana Dos Santos came to the US from Uruguay in 2001 when she was 14. Her family was part of a large wave of migrants who moved north to the US when the economy back home collapsed. At the time, the US had a visa waiver agreement with Uruguay so it wasn’t hard to enter the country.

She came just in time to start high school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where she was lucky to land in a college access program designed to track kids and prepare them for the future. It also meant a rude awakening about her status as an undocumented immigrant.
“My first month I got called in by the guidance counselor,” Dos Santos told me. “They were preparing kids for college at a young age. They asked me, ‘So how are you going to pay for school?’”
That’s when Dos Santos learned how expensive college is in the US, how she would likely be charged much higher international student rates as an undocumented student, and that she would not be eligible for financial aid.
The federally funded college access program, Gear Up, was run by the local community college, Mount Wachusett. The program staff couldn’t bear to see Dos Santos and other undocumented students slip through the cracks.
“We graduated,” Dos Santos remembered, “and they were like, ‘Oh my God, these kids are really smart and they’re not going to be able to afford college because they’re undocumented. Are we just going to leave them? We brought them this far, we told them to work harder and they would get their education and be successful and now we’re not going to do anything?’”
So they took the matter to Daniel Asquino, the president of Mount Wachusett Community College. He remembers meeting with Dos Santos and another student.
“They had been in this country since they were children,” he told me. “They were not eligible for financial aid because they were undocumented, They had gone through our school system. And that was the end. Without financial aid they could not access higher education.”
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