Advocates raise $136,850 to send immigrant students to college

Anette Guzman did not know English when she started kindergarten. Her parents moved their family to Memphis from Mexico City when she was a child, and she was enrolled in ESL classes when she started school.

Growing up, Guzman got A’s, did well on standardized tests, and began dreaming of one day going to college.

However, because her family entered the country illegally, she was ineligible for state tuition in Tennessee and could not obtain any state or federal financial aid.

Her dream faded further when she found out she was going to be a high school senior mom.

“Going to school and raising a daughter simultaneously didn’t seem possible at all,” Guzman said. “Watching my classmates go off to college really broke my heart.”

When she was seven months pregnant, Guzman sat in the back row of her church and told her cousin about her extinguished dream of going to college. He told her about Equal Chance for Education, an immigrant scholarship fund that had recently expanded to Memphis.

Anette Guzman (middle) spoke at a fundraiser for Equal Chance for Education about her struggles to pay for college and thanked ECE founder Dr. Michael Spalding for his support on Thursday, February 17 2022 at the Hermitage in Nashville.

“I went home and immediately applied for the program,” Guzman said. “After completing the interview process, I could finally say I was going to college.”

ECE, a program to help first-generation immigrants gain access to higher education, held its first fundraiser Feb. 17 to benefit their annual scholarship fund.

Since its inception in 2014, the organization has supported 486 scholars at 20 colleges and universities in Tennessee.

Former Washington Post editor Don Graham and writer and presidential biographer Jon Meacham served as panelists at the event. Former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler served as moderator.

Nearly 8,000 students, including those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, living in Tennessee face “impossible financial barriers” to accessing higher education, according to ECE. The average age of fellows served by ECE came to the United States at age 5, and many have never lived elsewhere.

“Under our Constitution they have the right to attend secondary school, but when it comes to applying to university they face many discriminatory challenges,” said EEC President Charles Robert Bone. “They do not have access to student loans, state or federal funding, and are not eligible for tuition at community colleges and public institutions.”

Left to right: Jon Meacham, Don Graham and John Seigenthaler were panelists at the Equal Chance for Education fundraiser on Thursday, February 17, 2022 at the Hermitage in Nashville.  Michael Spalding (far left) looks on.

Dr. Michael Spalding founded the organization when his friend’s daughter was denied access to higher education due to her immigration status. He approached Nashville State Community College to pay the student’s tuition, only to find she did not qualify for state tuition in Tennessee – the only home she had ever known .

After receiving financial support and advocacy from Spalding, Melissa Patino-Gonzalez graduated from Lipscomb University in 2018 and now works as a special education teacher at Hillwood High School in Nashville.

Patino-Gonzalez was joined by 16 other ECE scholars at the event who shared their stories of pursuing graduate school after thinking it would be impossible.

ECE has grown since Spalding supported its first student, and 131 graduates are now part of Tennessee’s workforce. ECE distributes $2.1 million in scholarships each year.

Program scholars have an average GPA of 3.27 and the program has a 96% retention rate.

All graduates of the ECE program are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or another program that allows them to work in the United States. The Obama-era DACA program grants temporary work permits and Social Security numbers to people who came to the United States illegally as children.

Equal Chance for Education Scholars share their stories Thursday, February 17, 2022 at the Hermitage in Nashville.

ECE is partnered with 14 Tennessee colleges and universities, including Trevecca Nazarene University and Cumberland University.

There are about 100 DACA students at Trevecca today, and 62 of them are supported by ECE, university president Dan Boone said.

“They are some of the most outstanding students I have ever met,” Boone said.

Cumberland University has been a partner of the organization since its inception, and university president Paul Stumb said ECE scholars have made a difference at Cumberland.

“They provided such diversity and they were leaders in all aspects of our institution,” Stumb said. “We are a better institution today thanks to these young ECE scholars.”

DACA has been on uneven ground since its inception and is in danger again after a Texas judge ruled it against federal immigration law in July.

Graham, who runs his own national scholarship fund for DACA recipients called Dream.US, said without a DACA or a path to citizenship, students may have to consider jobs their parents have had in the past.

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“So in the future, Dream.US will primarily be educating undocumented students, and we will need to help them learn how to work as independent contractors, start their own business, or start their own co-op,” Graham said. . . “If we could send more students to college, we would.”

Despite the uncertainty faced by many DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers”, Meacham said there is still hope for the future.

“By helping the few, we are also helping the many,” Meacham said. “You make this case, and you have some hope.”

For Guzman and others at the fundraiser, Spalding has already changed the trajectory of their lives and those of future generations.

“It never ceases to amaze me to wake up every morning and continue to forge an incredible future for my family and myself,” Guzman said. “If I had to tell my younger self that I would be here, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Guzman graduated with honors from the University of Memphis and now works as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs. She also has a healthy baby girl.

“Getting a college degree may be a no-brainer for many people, or it may not be at the top of everyone’s priority list,” Guzman said. “But for my ECE academic colleagues and myself, it’s all we’ve ever dreamed of.”

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