S.B. Foundation to Open Scholarships to Undocumented Students

Much of $1.6 Million in Annual Disbursements Now Going to ‘Best Qualified Students’

Undocumented students in Santa Barbara County hoping to attend college just got a boost. The Santa Barbara Foundation announced earlier this month that it will no longer require proof of citizenship for scholarship disbursements as of 2014.

This means that much of the $1.6 million dollars it administers in scholarships will be open “to the best qualified students from Santa Barbara County schools regardless of citizenship status,” according to a press release.

Santa Barbara Foundation President Ron Gallo said that there was no explicit change in policy. Noncitizens had never been officially barred before, but in practice, they were not considered for scholarships. Although the Board of Directors did not unanimously support the move, he said that agreement on the matter was “overwhelming.”

“We believe that our country and this county are engaged in global competition for a talented workforce, and we shouldn’t be squandering those resources,” he said.

Gallo added that the foundation did study all of its bequests, and it will honor any stipulations that a donation only be administered to citizens. The vast majority of donations, he said, make no demands either way, but some of the $1.6 million the S.B. Foundation administers via The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara will be restricted to citizens.

Colette Hadley, executive director of The Scholarship Foundation, said that no policy changes are necessary on the part of her organization, which merely acts as a clearinghouse for its funders. So it will simply honor the foundation’s wishes. Because the announcement is so recent, she said, her staff has not yet put together a plan for implementing the change procedurally. In 2013, the Scholarship Foundation distributed a total of $8.1 million in scholarships.

While the 2011 California DREAM Act made public financial aid available for some undocumented students, the biggest source of private scholarships for Santa Barbara County’s undocumented students — often referred to as DREAMers — is a nonprofit called Adsum Education Foundation, which was started by five friends in 2010. Adsum (Latin for “I am here”) raises money specifically for exceptional undocumented students. It disbursed about $85,000 to 30 students this year and received 144 applications.

Adsum President Jonathan Wang said, “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that [the Santa Barbara Foundation is] recognizing these students as part of our best collective future.” Meanwhile, he said, “We will continue our work until all major scholarship funders in Santa Barbara County open their citizenship criteria.”

Gallo did say that community input, including discussion with Wang, prompted his decision. “Because they are young people,” he said of DREAMers, “they were brought here as infants or 5-year-olds. It did seem like this was something we should be doing. We should continue investing in young people who want to be leaders.”

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