When Dreamers and black colleges meet, American success stories are made

When Dreamers and black colleges meet, American success stories are made
© Getty

There are a number of complexities surrounding our national conversation on immigration, and one of the most visible examples involves the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Approximately 800,000 undocumented individuals are participants in this initiative, with an estimated 160,000 believed to be presently enrolled in colleges and universities across the country.

These students are representative of one of the strongest threads in the fabric of America’s story of greatness; that of the contribution of immigrants to America’s founding, development and influence on the world stage. Their ability to thrive, along with institutions which support their success, should be held up as a model for how policy and partnership work together to improve our world.

For organizations like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), which represents nearly 300,000 college students at our 47 publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), we are charged with giving complex issues like these great attention. I’m humbled to serve these students and this organization as president & CEO, and given the great responsibility of leading our advocacy in public and private sectors for more investment, more partnerships and more awareness.

The work I do everyday on behalf of these schools in not unlike what lawmakers and advocates throughout our nation are doing on behalf of DACA students, a group with whom I built a very special relationship prior to my arrival at TMCF.  

For eight years, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as president of Delaware State University (DSU). In 2016, working alongside the university’s board of trustees, I was proud to make Delaware State the first HBCU to participate in the thedream.us Opportunity Scholars Program for DACA students.

The program grants scholarships to undocumented students who are ineligible for in-state tuition or are completely barred from attending public colleges and universities in their home states because of their citizenship status. All DACA recipients are currently ineligible for any federal grants or loans to pursue higher education.

We believed that DSU would be an ideal partner for the DREAM program, in part because of the university’s robust academic profile, diverse student and faculty composition, and the welcoming culture of Dover, Del. Equally important in our decision making was the historic role that Delaware State University and other HBCUs have played as vehicles of American mobility, created during a period when opportunity at other institutions of higher education were closed off to thousands because of attitudes and policies stratifying society and opportunity based on race.

Over the course of two years, DSU welcomed more than 75 students who maintained an average GPA of 3.5 — including several with perfect 4.0 GPAs — and posted a 100 percent retention rate. Along with their strong academic commitment, they helped our campus to build appreciation for a variety of cultures and perspectives.

Their success affirmed the partnership between thedream.us and Delaware State University as the evolution of a foundational principle for all HBCUs — access and opportunity for all students without regard for means, influence or circumstances of birth.

Political differences may be at the center of this debate, but no matter what shape the final policy takes, TMCF will proudly continue to advocate for all students who are driven to create their own American success stories, and will continue to fulfill our collective mission to provide access and opportunity to all students who strive for a better future and to take full advantage of the promise that America has to offer.

Dr. Harry L. Williams is the President & CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. Prior to joining TMCF, he spent eight years as president of Delaware State University. Follow him on Twitter at @DrHLWilliams.