Undocumented students get help going to college

Undocumented students get help going to college »Play Video
"Mary," an illegal immigrant high school student from Nigeria, speaks about receiving help from The College Dream Fund, Thursday, June 14, 2012, in Bakersfield.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — "Mary" was 13 years old when she was brought to America from Nigeria. She grew up as any other teen, attending school and learning her new culture. But it was later in life that Mary found out she was undocumented, an illegal immigrant in a place she now called home.

Mary and thousands of other students like her in Kern County have dreams of attending college. But, because they are undocumented, they are ineligible for many of the financial loans or scholarships afforded to others.

A group of local educators started The College Dream Fund, a nonprofit group that raises funds and awards undocumented students with scholarships for college. Started in 2010, 187 scholarships have been awarded in amounts ranging from $250 to $1,600, said Jim Young, chancellor emeritus of the Kern Community College District and secretary of The College Dream Fund.

Young said it is wise to continue investing in students who have demonstrated academic superiority but are limited financially.

"They could go on to become a doctor, a lawyer, and become an active member of our society," said Young.

The group held a fundraising event Thursday at the Marriott Hotel, attracting educators and other professionals. Each year, between 1,200 and 1,500 undocumented students graduate from high school in Kern County, said Young.

"Knowing that there are people out there willing to lend a hand for students such as myself is a really big encouragement,"  said Mary, the student from Nigeria.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act in 2011, which should provide some help for undocumented students. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. Undocumented students will be eligible for California Community College Board of Governor's Grants and Cal Grants for the University of California and California State University systems, if the funds remain in the state budget.