When you visit Colorado Mountain College’s (CMC) website, you are greeted with photos from different school events, information about tuition and fees, and links to various programs and campus locations—not unlike many other college homepages. Where CMC differs, however, is that it also advertises on its front page its support for students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and a new initiative to help them earn degrees.
The topic of “DREAMers” and higher education has spurred heated debates in recent months, as judges across the states continue to issue injunctions to block the termination of the DACA program, and policymakers debate the prospect of allowing this population of students to qualify for federal financial aid.
CMC’s response to helping its large population of “DREAMers” was to pilot a one-of-a-kind program launched this fall dubbed “Fund Sueños,” which means “the Dream Fund,” to provide students who are ineligible for federal financial aid with money to help them complete their degrees in exchange for a portion of their future income.
“Our vision is to be the most inclusive, student-centered college in the nation,” CMC President Carrie Hauser said. “We’re not an open door if students can’t access us, whether for economic reasons or other reasons.”
To qualify for the program, made possible by private donors, students must be eligible for financial aid yet unable to receive Title IV funds, qualify as in-state or in-district, and be authorized to work in the U.S. Once a student’s eligibility is determined, he or she signs a contract for an income-share agreement (ISA) and may receive up to $3,000 a year. According to CMC’s website, this is enough to cover the annual tuition of $2,400, as well as fees and books for full-time, in-district students.
While CMC is one of the most affordable colleges in Colorado, Hauser said the costs are “still a hurdle” for many students, which can lead to students stopping out or not enrolling. While students in the DACA program can qualify for in-state tuition according to Colorado law, they are not eligible for state or federal financial aid.
“We at least hope this levels the playing field,” Hauser said. “We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to pursue their education.”
Six months after students receiving these funds graduate, they must begin repaying 4 percent of their income with no interest if they are making $30,000 or more. Payments will continue for up to 60 months or until funds are fully paid. Hauser said that through speaking to students and families, she has found that they “really appreciate and value the notion” that students will be helping to support others like them by repaying the aid. According to a fact sheet about the program, ISAs “present a more equitable financing mechanism than loans, especially for low-income and first-generation students, because they are based on the future potential of students, rather than the historic finances of their parents and families.”
Other institutions and philanthropists have contacted CMC to inquire about how they can create similar opportunities for their population of students in the DACA program, Hauser said, adding that “if it is successful, it’s something other institutions can use and adapt.”
“Whether it’s this opportunity or any other opportunity [to help] students struggling to figure out how to complete degrees, institutions have more opportunities to be innovative than they may realize,” CMC Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi said.
Gianneschi said CMC has been making students aware of the program through initial talks with students and families, its website, and counselors who interact with students, as the school does not have a way to know which students qualify for the program based on their citizenship statuses.
While Gianneschi explained the focus of the pilot program is currently on students who are already enrolled in the institution yet struggling to complete their degrees, he noted that CMC is currently learning from students and counselors what works and what doesn’t with regard to the program, and will continue to evaluate its success in helping students.
“While this is one approach, I don’t know if it is the only approach,” Gianneschi said. “We have to constantly challenge ourselves. Even if we fail, we fail trying. Our students deserve our best efforts.”
Publication Date: 9/28/2018