Illegal immigrant granted $15K scholarship in Calif.

A community college student in California will soon be attending the University of California, Los Angeles on a $15,000 scholarship, despite her status as an illegal immigrant.

Until recently, Cinthia Magaña was a student at Santa Monica College (SMC), a community college where “undocumented students are able to enroll…[and] can qualify for residency if they completed three years of high school and graduated,” an admissions operator at the school told Campus Reform on condition of anonymity.

In July, Magaña was awarded the Chui L. Tsang Transfer Scholarship, a two-year, $15,000 scholarship available to prospective transfer students at SMC who wish to complete their bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.

Magaña’s family left Mexico when she was five years old, and she has been residing in the U.S. illegally ever since; nevertheless, she has compiled an impressive record of accomplishments, such as becoming the first undocumented student ever to work for the Department of Education.

The scholarship is named in honor of Dr. Chui Tsang, who retired in February after spending nine years as superintendent and president of SMC, and all transferring students are eligible to receive the highly competitive award.

Applicants are required to have a minimum 3.0 GPA and 24 completed credits at SMC, and must also receive a nomination letter from a member of the school’s faculty, staff, or administration detailing “the student's academic and personal journey, including, but not limited to, successes, failures, obstacles, challenges and accomplishments.”

The selection process is handled by a campus committee, which then forwards its top recommendations to Dr. Tsang for a final decision as to which candidate will receive the scholarship.

Cinthia Magaña was associated with SMC's outreach programs for other undocumented students like IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success) and the Association of Higher Education for Active Dreamers (AHEAD), and she successfully completed an internship in D.C.

All the while, as she has done since the age of 12, Magaña was also helping to support her family financially and take care of her younger siblings.

“I am so proud to award this year’s scholarship to Cinthia,” Dr. Tsang told the Santa Monica Daily Press. “Cinthia stood out as a leader from the day she arrived at SMC.”

As an illegal immigrant, Magaña is not eligible for federal or state financial aid, and will likely depend primarily on her scholarship to afford tuition at UCLA, which currently stands at $13,251 and $24,708 for residents and non-residents, respectively.

The $15,000 grant should just barely suffice to cover her tuition, since California allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates, but UCLA estimates that the actual cost to an average student would be at least double that figure after accounting for books, room and board, transportation, and other supplementary expenses.

Although her scholarship is not sufficient to cover all the costs associated with two years at the university, Magaña has the option to participate in the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center, previously profiled by Campus Reform.

The Center’s flagship offering is the Dream Summer program, a 10-week paid internship through which undocumented students work with social justice organizations “to incorporate and strengthen the inclusion of undocumented immigrant issues onto the organization’s social justice work.” In addition to the money they earn through the internships, participants also receive a $5,000 award from the Center upon their successful completion of the program.

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