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Every once in a while someone asks me about why I do the work that I do every day... this is why:

My morning started with a joyously tearful call from a mom dropping off her oldest daughter at college in Pennsylvania - a mom who at one point this year was dead-set on her daughter starting at community college because she just didn’t think she was ready for a four-year school… she thanked me for seeing something in her daughter that she couldn’t, and pushing her to see the things that I saw. How do you even respond to that?

But then I walked in my office and met one of the students I needed to work with today to help him with his registration for his fall classes at the junior college he was planning to attend this fall. He happens to be undocumented, and I was forced to confront today full-on what that really means for a kid who has spent almost his entire life in this country, was in the top quartile of his graduating class and scored the national average on the ACT - a kid who, by any of those measures, should be college-bound to study engineering this fall.

Given that profile, you might be wondering why he was planning on attending a junior college. Well, despite being accepted to every public institution in Texas that he applied to, and several out-of-state schools as well… without access to federal financial aid dollars, none of those were going to be a feasible option. So, the much more “affordable” junior college was where we landed.

He was in my office to re-register for his classes. You see, even our undocumented 18-year-olds must register for the selective service in order to receive federal or state financial aid… Texas has this nifty little program where undocumented students can receive state aid as long as you graduate from a public Texas high school. Awesome. We filled out the TASFA, Texas’s version of the FAFSA for undocumented students who can apply for state aid back in January - when you’re supposed to. And at that time, the student was not within 30 days of his 18th birthday, so he couldn’t register for the selective service yet. So we checked that box. Now, fast forward to August when they finally got around to processing the application and - shazam - in the mean time, he turned 18, so now there is a hold on his account. So, we mailed off the registration for the selective service (can’t do it online with out a social security number) and are in the up to 30 day waiting period for them to process the registration and then - when they feel like it - notify the institution that he is, indeed, registered. So by following all the rules and timelines, he is now stuck, without any financial aid even able to be offered, waiting. Except… he’s supposed to move in Monday. So… what now?

Great question. Triage time. Cost of attendance first semester will be a little over $4,125. If we put him on a payment plan and try to arrange some emergency funding… scholarship, loan, something… through our network, maybe we can still make this work. What can the family contribute? Family of six. Adjusted gross income of $15K per year. So… not much, if they also want to keep the lights on and the other three kids fed and clothed. Let’s try calling financial aid and see what our options are…

So we get the director of financial aid on the phone - the man with whom the buck literally stops - and he informs us that even if we had a package with state aid, the max value would be $2700 per year. Wait. What? You mean a state that is willing to spend over $4800 a year in per-pupil funding for this student in K-12 will now - when he is right on the verge of becoming a productive member of society - only invest less than half that amount… right around a quarter of the cost of attendance at the cheapest public option that exists?

When some people hear financial aid, they think “free money” and when it comes to undocumented students, that sometimes gets folks panties in a twist for a whole variety of reasons. But lets - for the sake of argument - take the free money out of the equation… let’s just talk loans. If he could just get access to the Stafford loan dollars available to everyone else (at a total of $9500 for the first year) then he could pay for his whole year of college. And as anyone who is out there paying off student loans knows… they are going to get their money back - one way, or another… so, is letting a kid who wants to be an engineer and will probably actually be able to afford to pay off his loans such a horrible use of public funds? Apparently.

So here we are. Seven months later. All the four-year options said he was smart enough to go to their school… just not rich enough. The only feasible two-year option he had available let him come to orientation and register for classes not once, but twice… slams that door shut four days before he is supposed to move in.

And now the options we are left with are trying to pick up a couple classes at the local community college while working as many hours as humanly possible to save up enough money over the next four months to be able to enroll full time next semester… or get a job a Starbucks and try to do their tuition reimbursement plan with Arizona State University online. Seriously? These are the best available options to the same kid that some of the best universities in Texas invited to join their student bodies.

That’s why he deserves to have someone at his side, buffeting the gusts of disillusionment and disappointment that assail, unannounced, driving you off course just when the destination is in sight...

And that’s why we do what we do.

So what can you do?!?!?!?! We are on a MISSION to raise at least $10,000 for our student-----can you help us? If you are unable to help…. PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH YOUR NETWORKS.

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Rian Carkhum 
Houston, TX
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