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Student Lizbeth Macias shares stage with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Cardona

Published on April 27, 2021

Student Lizbeth Macias shares stage with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Cardona

Lizbeth Macias '22 and Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education.

Eastern Connecticut State University junior Lizbeth Macias of Waukesha, WI, participated in a national panel on April 20 to discuss DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students and the DREAM Act. The panel was hosted by Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education.

Macias and Cardona were joined by students from California, Florida and other states, as well as school administrators and teachers, all gathered to discuss how to make protections for undocumented students permanent. Currently there are 1.8 million undocumented youth in the United States, with 800,000 of them granted temporary protection through the DACA executive order signed by Barack Obama in 2012.

“It was very emotional for me to hear other people’s stories,” said Macias. “It was empowering to hear people like me all over the country and what we can do to pursue this dream.”

Macias was born in Mexico and moved with her family to Arizona when she was two, later relocating to Wisconsin in 2010. In Arizona, as part of the language immersion program there, she was not allowed to speak Spanish in school. “I felt my identity was being taken away from me.  Spanish is not just a language; it’s a culture — it’s about who we are.”

In Wisconsin, Macias was enrolled in her local high school’s Health Professions Academy. At Eastern, she is an elementary education major, with a second major in Spanish. “I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in Secretary Cardona’s roundtable,” said Macias. “He was there to listen and hopes that the Congress can come up with a stable Dream Act.”

Macias is one of more than 200 undocumented students being funded at Eastern by TheDream.US foundation, an organization created by former Washington Post publisher Donald Graham. The foundation provides scholarships to support undocumented students who cannot afford to pay for a college education in their home state.

When Macias applied for colleges in Wisconsin, she discovered that she was not eligible for federal financial aid or in-state tuition due to the fact she wasn’t a U.S. citizen. “My parents had left everything behind when we left Mexico and made great sacrifices for me and my two brothers.  When we realized how much tuition was going to be, I felt my own pain but also that of my parents — it was as if their sacrifices were going to be for nothing.”

Macias applied for a TheDream.US scholarship and is glad she did. “Eastern is like a dream.”  Macias lives on campus, works as an office assistant in her residence hall, and is active in Best Buddies, the Resident Hall Association, and as treasurer for the 180 Christian Fellowship club. 

She has an internship at Windham Middle School, volunteers at Douglas Manor nursing home and at Eastern’s on-campus food pantry, and hopes to become a dual language teacher after she graduates.

Macias is one of more than 200 students from Georgia, North Carolina, Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin and other states who attend or have attended Eastern through “Opportunity Scholarships” provided by TheDream.US foundation, headquartered in Washington, DC.  As undocumented students, they are “locked out” from attending public colleges and universities in their home states. They are not eligible for Pell Grants and other federal financial aid, and are either not allowed to attend public institutions in their home states or must pay out-of-state tuition. In addition to these students, TheDream.US also supports a group of undocumented students who are Connecticut residents — “National Scholars” — providing them with funds to pay for their tuition and fees.

“Our Opportunity and National Scholars have been outstanding students at Eastern,” said Elsa Núñez.  “I was proud when Eastern was selected by Donald Graham as one of only two universities in the nation to pilot the Opportunity Scholars program in 2016. I have been even more proud of the success and achievement of the DACA students who are attending Eastern.  They are high academic achievers, leaders in our student clubs, and volunteers in our local community. They make Eastern a better place and they are living proof that ‘Dreamers’ deserve a path to permanent citizenship so that they can take their rightful place in this great American democracy.”

Since 2016 when Eastern first partnered with TheDream.US, upwards of 250 students — both Opportunity and National Scholars—have enrolled at Eastern.  Over that time, the retention rate of these students is 96 percent, rivaling the retention rate at Harvard, Yale and other prestigious universities. Of the initial class of 47 students in 2016, 43 graduated on time in May 2020 and three more graduated this past December — a graduation rate of 98 percent.

“Not only have our DACA students stayed here, excelled academically, and are graduating at an unprecedented rate, they have brought a diversity of thought and experience to campus,” explained Chris Dorsey, director of enrollment management. “They come from across America, bringing their culture, personal stories and aspirations with them. They and our entire nation will benefit from passage of a Dream Act to fully protect their right to be here. The United States is their home, and our campus and our country are stronger because of their contributions.”

Written by Ed Osborn