On Monday, August 1st, 2011, three members of IACAC were witnesses to one of the most exciting legislative events of our time – the signing of the Illinois DREAM Act at Benito Juarez Community Academy. IACAC President Laura Docherty, Aliza Gilbert, and Luis Caballero took their seats among students, journalists, educators, community leaders, and government officials to watch Governor Pat Quinn sign this bill into law. Illinois is the first state in the country to set up a scholarship fund for undocumented students.
According to Robert Gonzalez, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, less than ten percent of unauthorized high school graduates pursue college immediately after high school. Research has shown that the number one barrier for unauthorized students attending higher education is a lack of financial resources to cover the costs. As a result, most unauthorized students will begin at a community college but never finish a four year degree due to the inability to finance their education.
In an attempt to meet the needs of these students, the Illinois DREAM Act will establish a private scholarship fund that will make it possible for about 95,000 unauthorized students to attend college, the first of its kind in the country. Students who attend an Illinois high school for three years and graduate from an Illinois high school will be eligible for this opportunity. In addition, it should be made clear that this is not a program that will be funded using taxpayer dollars. Instead the Governor will be appointing a public commission whose responsibility will be to raise money to support this program.
Aliza Gilbert shared that this legislation was a critical step towards access for these students. She stated, “Not only does the legislation provide financial opportunities for students, but it also sends a message to them that the state values them and believes in their ability to succeed academically.” Further, by passing this legislation, high school counselors and college admission professionals can now direct families, who previously assumed their unauthorized status prevented them from pursuing a college degree, in new directions with realistic options for these students. For Aliza this event was extra special, as three of her former students were present during the event.
Luis Caballero described attending the signing of the Illinois DREAM Act as “one of the best experiences” he has ever had personally and professionally. While excited, he also acknowledged how important it is that to realize “that while the Illinois DREAM Act is crucial to our efforts as higher education professionals, it is by no means the silver bullet when it comes to serving this population. The struggles of our country’s unauthorized students are far from over, and it is our social and ethical responsibility to continue advocating for them in our institutions.”
It was a very proud day for the members of IACAC to see how persistence in educating legislators can pay off for our students. Laura Docherty was also quite moved by the experience as she watched a young woman speak about how this bill would change her life. Laura expressed, “I am proud to be the president of an organization that was pivotal in the passage of legislation that directly affects the students with whom we work.” As high school guidance counselors, Aliza and Laura felt similarly that not only does this legislation empower them as counselors, but as educated people among the public. They view their role as one to help other citizens understand how important it is to provide educational opportunities to unauthorized students and believe that by promoting the importance of this legislation it will only strengthen these students’ futures as well as the nation.
Government Relations Committee Co-Chair