CMC’s financial aid helps Dreamers get through college faster
One year after launching a pilot program for Dreamers, Colorado Mountain College’s approach to help students who fall through the cracks of financial aid is gaining attention.
“We get calls every week on this concept, mostly just to figure out what we’re doing,” Matt Gianneschi, CMC’s chief operating officer, said. Some calls have even come from U.S. senators.
But, most importantly, the income-share agreement has proven effective in helping students ineligible for most financial aid because of their immigration status transition to full-time coursework.
Gabby Cerros, 20, jumped at the chance to join the Fund Suenos (Dream Fund) when CMC stared offering it last fall. The program is targeted at young people who were not born in the U.S., but were brought here as young children by their parents and grew up in the U.S.
Cerros is studying to be a certified medical assistant at the CMC Rifle campus.
Fund Suenos “gives me a lot of motivation to keep coming to class and to graduate,” Cerros said.
Fund Suenos is CMC’s approach to a novel financial aid philosophy that is becoming something of a movement in higher education.
The idea started when CMC wanted to do something for students who qualified under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (often called Dreamers) and were ineligible for most financial aid.
Most people have to borrow to attend college full time, but when federal student loans and other aid unavailable, CMC noticed that students take classes slower, keeping them out of the skilled workforce longer.
Students in DACA are ineligible for federal funds, but are still seeking careers through CMC.
“There was no option for certain students, and yet they were enrolled in our institution and pursuing degrees and certificates that would lead to good jobs here,” Gianneschi said.
The question became, “how might we enable students to move through a little bit more effectively?” he said.
The principle of ISAs is that instead of a traditional student loan, borrowers commit to signing over a percentage of their income after graduation to pay back what they borrowed for school.
At CMC, students sign up to pay back 4 percent of their income when they enter the workforce. For a CMC graduate making $30,000 annually (the minimum for the income withdrawals to occur), that would be about $100 per month.
While non-DACA students may also fit some of the categories, the first year of the pilot program was designed to help current students who were falling through the cracks.
When CMC launched Fund Suenos in 2018, no one was talking about ISAs. Now, there are programs at several other colleges around the country, but none are quite like CMC’s.
It is still a pilot program, and may evolve slightly. The Colorado legislature this year made state financial aid available to undocumented students, which may change how the program helps.
“Our ISA program may be more of a supplemental or gap-filling program rather than the only option available to the students,” Gianneschi said.
In the meantime, the program has helped. About 15 students participated in the first year of Fund Suenos, with more ready to sign up this fall. Fund Suenos is funded only by donations, which caps the total amount that the foundation can pay out. Once the students pay the money back — without any interest — it will go to a new student.
For Cerros, who was paying out of pocket for each CMC course she took, the program allows her to focus more on school. She still works full time, but she sees the value of getting through school faster and on to her career in medicine.
“It takes a big weight off my shoulders,” Cerros said.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.