College Graduation Photo by COD Newsroom

Stepping Up

California Campuses Expanding Services for Undocu­mented Students and Families

A new fund supports campus efforts to help undocumented students persevere and succeed.

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Across California, 25,000 undocumented young people graduate from public high schools every year. Estimates are that more than 70,000 undocumented students are enrolled in the state’s public colleges and universities. When I meet these students and hear their stories, I can’t help but think about my own immigrant journey as the son and grandson of farmworkers who came to the United States from Mexico. When I was growing up in the Central Valley, I saw education as my ticket to stability, opportunity, and a better life.

This is why I am so inspired by undocumented students who are trying to get an education and build a future in the only country many of them have ever known. It’s also why I am so excited to see how California’s public colleges and universities are responding to a new opportunity to bolster their efforts to help undocumented students and their families succeed.

When the California Campus Catalyst Fund announced the availability of funding to do this work, we were amazed and humbled to receive 85 applications from campuses across the state. In September, we announced grants to 32 campuses to come up with solutions for welcoming undocumented students and their families, and for providing them with critical resources and support.

The incredible response to this opportunity shows that educators throughout California recognize that undocumented young people face unique barriers to success in the United States today. The constant threat of deportation, together with daily open hostility from many in the American public, has them wondering about their future here. Add in the legal, financial and other hurdles they and their families face, and the need for focused and dedicated support for these students is crystal clear.

The response to the California Campus Catalyst Fund also shows that colleges and universities are eager to explore new and creative solutions for helping undocumented students and their families. Some campuses want to start or expand entrepreneurship programs so students and their families can boost their incomes and help strengthen and stabilize their communities. Others are intent on strengthening their outreach to hard-to-reach communities of immigrants who are marginalized because of language and cultural barriers. Still others want to expand access to legal support, counseling and other essential services.

Perhaps the best news is that these and other activities will be taking place on campuses and in communities where they can have the biggest impact. Community colleges are where the majority of California’s undocumented students pursue their postsecondary education, and these campuses represent the majority of California Campus Catalyst Fund grantees. The fund also is supporting colleges and universities in areas of the state with large immigrant populations, including areas that offer very limited services for undocumented young people and their families. This means these campuses will become a critical lifeline for ensuring that undocumented communities can find the support they need.

At Immigrants Rising, we have the privilege of managing the California Campus Catalyst Fund. On behalf of our staff and leadership team, I want to say congratulations to all of the colleges and universities that are now part of this statewide initiative. I also want to thank all of the funders who are supporting this innovative effort. Together, we are bringing hope and opportunity to undocumented students and their families—and we are showing the nation that we all benefit when we create a welcoming environment for immigrants and provide everybody with the support they need to succeed and thrive.

Click here for more on how you can support the California Campus Catalyst Fund.

Victor Garcia is the California Campus Catalyst Fund Director with Immigrants Rising.