UCSF Increases Scholarships, Loans for Its Undocumented Students

By Nina Bai

four students walk under a sign that says "heal"

The high cost of a health professions education is a concern for many students, but the burden can be particularly heavy for undocumented students, who have fewer avenues for financial support. That inequity has led UC San Francisco to add new scholarships and loans that double the University’s support for its undocumented students.

For each student, UCSF will increase its need-based scholarship funding from an average of $20,000 to an average of $40,000, depending on program of study, and its university loan from $10,000 to $20,000. The increases are effective immediately.

Students who are undocumented, including those who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), are ineligible for federal grants and loans, which often make up the bulk of student financial support. They are also ineligible for federal work-study programs.

The state of California provides financial support for undocumented undergraduate students through Cal Grant, but the support does not extend to graduate and professional students. Undocumented students cannot even qualify for CalFresh funds (a state program that provides food stamps).

“As undergrads, undocumented students are able potentially to get funds from the state, but when they get to UCSF, they’re only eligible for institutional funding, some scholarship funding, and university loan funds,” said Jerry Lopez, director of student financial services at UCSF. “There’s still lots of unmet need.”

The cost of attendance at the UCSF School of Medicine is more than $85,000 a year, at the UCSF School of Dentistry, more than $100,000 a year. With the newly increased scholarships and loans, students, depending on their program of study, can be eligible for approximately $60,000 of financial support per year.

Undocumented students, many who come from low-income families, make ends meet by working off-campus jobs and budgeting severely, which can take a toll on their studies and their well-being, said Lopez.

Lopez and his Student Financial Services team have been working with the UCSF Office of Diversity and Outreach for some time to better understand the unmet financial needs of undocumented students and to advocate for their support.

“While undocumented students are a small population at UCSF, it’s critical for us to ensure that the University can be as inclusive as possible in the allocation of its resources,” said Renee Navarro, PharmD, MD, vice chancellor for Diversity and Outreach.

Together, the teams presented their findings to the various schools and committees.

With the strong support of Elizabeth Watkins, PhD, dean of the Graduate Division and vice chancellor of Student Academic Affairs, the Student Academic Affairs finance team, led by chief business officer Lisa Raskulinec, MBA, was able to identify internal funding sources that resulted in the new scholarships and loans.

“I am grateful to my team in Student Financial Services and Student Academic Affairs, particularly Jerry Lopez and Lisa Raskulinec, for their heartfelt dedication to all students and for their creative thinking in addressing the challenges our undocumented health professions students face,” said Watkins. 

“These students contribute their unique and valuable perspectives to their programs while they are at UCSF, and when they graduate, they bring their life experience to bear on their practices, approaching their patients with empathy and sensitivity and helping to promote health equity. I am delighted to be able to provide them with this additional financial support.”

As Student Financial Services has been reaching out to students to notify them about their increased funding, they’ve received an outpouring of gratitude, said Lopez. “This is a huge weight off my shoulders,” wrote one student. 

UCSF’s new scholarships and loans comes at a time when the University of California is challenging the Trump Administration’s decision to end the DACA program. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case Nov. 12. Since 2012, the DACA policy has allowed nearly 700,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to live, work and study in the country they call home.

Last month, a new state bill was passed that will extend the California DREAM loans to graduate students starting in the 2020-2021 academic year. Each graduate student will be able to borrow up to $4,000 per academic year, up to an aggregate of $20,000.