Migrant student funding replaced

After loss of grant, provost allocates money to pay for spring semester

When the sons and daughters of Kansas migrant workers found out they would lose financial aid to get a college education last month, many scrambled for answers.

Kansas University student Carlos Alvarado began searching for jobs, questioning how he could afford school because his father suffered an injury on the job and couldn’t work.

“It’s already hard enough to go to school and work part time,” Alvarado said at the time.

But now, KU officials have pulled together funding to keep the migrant education program up and running – at least temporarily.

During the past five years, the College Assistance Migrant Program at KU helped 91 of KU’s most vulnerable students pay for the first year of their college education – often the first opportunity for a member of their families to attend college.

The program also offered support and tutoring beyond the student’s first year, helping to ensure they remained in school and were on track toward graduation.

From all accounts, the program was a success, with a high retention rate and generally good grades among the program’s participants.

“It’s been good for the students, good for KU, good for the state,” said KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz.

But in October, CAMP officials found out the U.S. Department of Education had cut off funding, rejecting a grant proposal to renew financing for the program.

The U.S. Department of Education reviewed and graded 36 grant applications from schools across the country. The top eight were selected.

“Unfortunately, your application’s score was ranked below number eight and not recommended for funding,” wrote Francisco Garcia, director of the federal Office of Migrant Education, in an Oct. 6 letter.

It is still unclear why the grant application was rejected. In part because of open records laws in the state, part or all of the U.S. Department of Education’s response to the grant application is not public record, KU officials said in response to a request.

Because of the unsuccessful grant application, 13 students already recruited into the program were left without the assistance they expected to receive.

But shortly after students learned the news, KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway provided financial assistance for the nearly complete fall semester.

Shortly afterward, Hemenway met with KU Provost Richard Lariviere, who agreed to use about $39,000 in discretionary funds to pay for classes and fees through the upcoming spring semester, Bretz said.

Lariviere did not return calls seeking comment.

CAMP at KU coordinator Stacy Mendez recently met with two of the program’s students to let them know their spring assistance was ensured. The students, she said, were relieved.

“Their families can rest easier, knowing their kids can continue their college education, at least this semester,” Mendez said. “It’s one less thing for them to worry about.”

Beyond this spring, however, the future of the program is in jeopardy. Mendez said those CAMP officials still at the university would likely reapply for the federal grant next year.

But some officials involved with CAMP have since left the program, including former director Andrew Dalton, who is now involved in migrant education at the secondary level. Mendez said she also has moved onto other primary duties, although she still consults with CAMP students.

Without a recruiter or secured funding, Mendez said the program wouldn’t look for needy high school students next semester – likely putting it on hold for at least a year.

But Bretz said KU officials would explore other funding options to keep the program up and running, regardless of the outcome of the next round of grant applications in fall 2007.

“We’ll do everything we can to see if the program can continue,” she said.