From St. Olaf College’s founding by Norwegian immigrants to today’s “Dreamers,” the college’s commitment to immigrants from all nations is reinforced by its mission. In the most recent issue of St. Olaf Magazine, alumni and students share their personal immigration stories in the hope that Oles will continue to work alongside neighbors, friends, and strangers to welcome all voices and experiences to America. This is one story from that series.
In the course of her work as senior financial aid counselor at Augsburg University, Catherine Maun works with dozens of undocumented students. Many of these students are able to attend college due to the Minnesota Dream Act, which was signed into law in 2013. This legislation enables the students to gain access to and receive financial aid from the state for higher education.
To meet the act’s criteria, undocumented students — or Dreamers, as they’re called — must have graduated from a Minnesota high school after attending for at least three years, registered with the Selective Service, and provided documentation showing they’ve applied for lawful immigration status if a federal process exists to do so (it currently does not). The students are then eligible to apply for a Minnesota Dream Grant, participate in work study programs, and receive privately funded financial aid from Minnesota higher education institutions.
For undocumented students, the Dream Grant is welcome relief, given the high cost of attending college, particularly at private colleges and universities with comprehensive fees in the tens of thousands of dollars, Maun says.
“Undocumented students, who often come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, cannot apply for federal financial aid,” says Maun, who spends much of her day assisting Augsburg’s students in navigating the complex financial aid process. “The Dream Grant provides much-needed funding for them, mirroring what in-state residents can receive in the form of a Minnesota State Grant.”
Augsburg has 60 students who receive the Minnesota Dream Grant, Maun says, making it the top school in Minnesota for Dreamers. “The university currently awards $25,500 in gift aid to each undocumented student, and the Dream Grant generally awards an average of an additional $5,000, which helps to make a college education more accessible for these students,” says Maun, who works with Dreamers to identify additional funding options as well.
Maun was first attracted to the position at Augsburg because of the word counselor in her title. “I liked the emphasis on mentoring, on working closely with students, and helping to make a difference in their lives during what can often be a very difficult time,” she says. She came to Augsburg after a year with College Possible, a nonprofit that coaches and supports low-income students through the college admissions process, and seven years with ACES, a tutoring and mentoring program for inner-city students.
“One school I worked with at ACES had a lot of undocumented students, and I’ve now had several of those students come to Augsburg,” Maun says. “These are incredibly motivated and smart, passionate students. They want to do well, and they are undocumented through no fault of their own. To help them navigate complex systems and to see them thriving is extremely rewarding.”
“Undocumented students are incredibly motivated and smart, passionate students. They want to do well, and they are undocumented through no fault of their own. To help them navigate complex systems and to see them thriving is extremely rewarding.”