Volume XVII | Issue 1 | Spring 2017

Undocumented students

New policy creates path to apply for Ford Family scholarships

Every year, The Ford Family Foundation’s Scholarship Office receives calls from school counselors and students asking if undocumented students can apply. Until this year, the answer was no.

In order to apply for any of the Foundation’s need-based scholarships, students are required to fill out the FAFSA, a federal form that measures financial need. That’s often a problem for undocumented students, who may not have the information required by FAFSA, such as a Social Security number.

All that has changed. Oregon recently began offering an alternative to the FAFSA, the Oregon Student Aid Application, commonly known as the ORSAA. Beginning with the 2017 scholarship cycle, the Scholarship Office will accept the ORSAA in place of the FAFSA, allowing undocumented students who meet certain criteria — three years of attendance in and graduation from an Oregon high school, for example — to apply for scholarships.

“It’s been hard for us, when we talk about our mission, to have a group that is excluded,” says Denise Callahan, the Foundation’s director of Postsecondary Success. “We’ve been having the conversation about undocumented students for a long time, but until the state came up with a mechanism to allow us to get the basic criteria that we require, there was not a lot of opportunity for us.”

Gerardo Ochoa

“This opens up educational opportunities beyond community college,” says Gerardo Ochoa, assistant dean for Diversity and Community Partnerships at Linfield College. “The process recognizes that you have a whole set of students who have goals and dreams and who have invested a lot of time to be successful, and they’ve hit a roadblock. It’s a very vulnerable population, and the scholarship opportunity sends a strong message that all people can succeed.”

The Ford Family Foundation is expecting to see a modest increase in application numbers. “We have already had a number of people reach out to us with questions,” Callahan says.

New policies around immigrants by the current administration is introducing an element of uncertainty into the equation. “Some students are still deciding whether they are even coming back to school,” Ochoa says. 

“It’s a troubling political environment for undocumented students,” Callahan says. She has already fielded questions from students concerned that applying for a scholarship will mean they are sharing their undocumented status. Although Oregon institutions don’t have all the answers yet, Callahan says the information on the ORSAA is shared only with schools. 

“It’s still a pretty complicated process for students, and we encourage people to call us if they have questions,” Callahan says. More information about scholarships, including how to apply, can be found on The Ford Family Foundation website

Regardless of the numbers, Ochoa says the Foundation’s new procedure is a big deal. “Ford is a leader in Oregon, and it has ripple effects for other scholarship providers.”  


Eligibility requirements

Applicants in Oregon must meet the eligibility requirements of Oregon House Bill (HB) 2787 and Senate Bill (SB) 932, including:

  • Attended an Oregon high school for at least three years immediately preceding graduation or equivalent
  • Attended an elementary school or secondary/high school in a state or territory of the United States during each of the five years immediately prior to receiving a high school diploma, or equivalent
  • Graduated (or will graduate) from an Oregon high school or the equivalent
  • Applied for a federal individual taxpayer identification number or other official federal identification document
  • Show intention to become a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident

Applicants in Siskiyou County, Calif., must meet the eligibility requirements of California Assembly Bill (AB) 540, including:

  • Submission of a California Dream Act Application
  • Attended a California high school for at least three years or document completing three years of California high school credit and enrollment for at least three years during K-12 in a California school
  • Graduated (or will graduate) from a California high school or the equivalent
  • Complete a California nonresident exemption request if attending a public college in California. (Students attending private institutions must still meet qualifications of AB 540, but will not need to complete a nonresident exemption request) 
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