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Schuler Education Foundation pledges $50 million for undocumented, DACA and Pell-Grant students

On September 29, the Schuler Education Foundation pledged $50 million to Carleton and four other liberal arts institutions—Kenyon College, Union College, Bates College and Tufts University—to support DACA, Pell-Grant and undocumented students. 

The Schuler Education Foundation was co-founded by billionaire healthcare investor, philanthropist and Carleton parent Jack Schuler. The foundation’s goal is to “further the success of individuals and communities by investing in high-achieving underrepresented students and top-tier liberal arts colleges.” 

The donation Carleton received was through the foundation’s Schuler Access Initiative, which aims to “substantially expand access for both undocumented students and Pell-eligible students to highly selective liberal arts colleges.”

The donation is contingent on Carleton raising money through other donors, which the foundation will match dollar-for-dollar. According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez, Carleton has until Dec. 31, 2025 to raise the $50 million, and the External Relations Office is seeking to bring in new donations for the initiative.

According to Rodriguez, the donation is also contingent on “an incremental increase of between two to six percent of Pell-eligible, DACA and undocumented students in the Carleton student body.” Rodriguez added that a shared goal of Carleton and the Schuler Education Foundation is “to enroll an additional 16 to 18 Pell or DACA students in each class over the next 10 years.”

“For Pell and DACA students, the costs of attending a college like Carleton may seem insurmountable,”  Rodriguez said. “To reduce their costs and make Carleton more affordable, families rely on financial aid provided by Carleton.” 

This donation would be substantial in expanding Carleton’s outreach to low-income, undocumented and DACA students. In the financial year of 2020-21, the school spent $46 million dollars on institutional aid, which came from “endowed scholarships, annual gifts and tuition-funded grants.” This made up the vast majority of the approximately $51 million Carleton students received in need-based financial aid, with the rest of the money coming from “Scholarships/grants from external sources (e.g. Kiwanis, National Merit) not awarded by the college.”

Despite this aid, socioeconomic diversity remains a problem on campus. While currently about 13.5 percent of Carleton students qualified for Pell Grants, indicating family incomes less than around $40,000 a year, only about 60 percent of the student body qualifies for aid at all. The Carleton Financial  Aid website provides grant estimates for those with family incomes up to $160,000.  These numbers conservatively suggest that approximately 40 percent of the student body—those that do not qualify for aid at all—come from the top income quintile while less than 14 percent  of students come from the bottom fifth. 

A 2017 New York Times investigation that used data from the class of 2013 produced more severe estimates: that 68 percent of the Carleton student body came from the top 20 percent while only 2.9 percent came from the bottom fifth.

The donation from the Schuler Family foundation looks to balance that discrepancy. According to the campus webpage, if the college can raise the maximum $50 million, “the number of low-income students attending Carleton will be expanded by over 50 students every year in perpetuity.” 

The donation not only targets low-income students, but specifically focuses on undocumented students and those who are DACA eligible. Schuler, the son of an immigrant himself, feels particularly strongly about this aspect of the program. 

“Immigrants are a real growth driver of the country, the most motivated, the most optimistic people,” said Schuler . “Those are the people who decide to come here. The undocumented are overall very motivated, optimistic and ambitious, and we should make it easier to invest in this population, not harder, like the government currently does.” 

“If you have two identically qualified candidates, it costs the college a lot more to accept the undocumented one,” added Schuler. “[Undocumented students] get no work study, no Pell Grant[s].  They’re not eligible for loans. Because of choices by the government, it’s a lot more expensive for colleges to accept this subset of undocumented students.” 

Melissa Vazquez ’22, the co-chair of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO)—an organization that seeks to provide cultural and social support to Latinx-identifying students, said, “An increase in financial support is a great way to aid DACA students, so this donation seems to provide a bright future for undocumented students.”  

“Hopefully, this donation encourages other benefactors to contribute to the futures of undocumented students,” she added. 

Vazquez referred to a guide published by the organization ‘’ that outlines how colleges and universities can support undocumented students beyond financial aid. The guide emphasizes addressing the unique needs of undocumented students, providing resources to ensure that they have equal access to education and are safe  on campus. 

Schuler picked up on a similar thread: “With undocumented students, parents are worried about surfacing. Colleges have to work to create systems to get the word out that it’s okay, [that] it’s safe to come here. Because when [they] don’t, we lose out on a lot of undocumented kids who just don’t apply. If they’re going to come to college we have to make it safe enough for them to surface.”

“For most DACA students, admission to Carleton was the easy part. It’s getting to the finish line that requires a lot of strength,” said Vazquez. “However, it is going to take much more than tuition refunds to help undocumented Carleton students get through their college careers. Other campuses provide institutionalized support systems that subsist without [a] reliance on students to continue. We should make a way to do the same on our campus.” 

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