Eduardo Luján Olivas, a gifted, 23-year-old undocumented student who had his scholarship taken away just an hour and a half before starting his first class at Arizona State University in Phoenix, will be able to continue his college education thanks to the generosity of hundreds of people who donated almost $24,000 to pay his tuition.
It was a race against time, since Luján didn't have time to apply to a new university or scholarship. In less than a month, he was able to raise the amount he needed to pay for his classes, and he's now studying criminology and criminal justice at ASU, the Arizona Republic reported.
Luján, who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age eight, graduated with honors this year from Pima Community College in Tucson. His odyssey began on August 18, an hour and a half before starting his first day of classes at ASU, he received a call from the Office of Financial Aid.
"I could not believe what I was being told. The scholarship I had worked so hard for had been revoked and the only reasonable explanation the Financial Aid Office provided was my immigration status as a DREAMer," Luján wrote on the GoFundMe page he set up. He has DACA, a deferred action program giving him work authorization and temporary protection from deportation, which is renewable every two years.
Luján had been admitted to ASU's competitive Barrett Honors College, and had been awarded the All-Arizona Academic Team Scholarship, given to a select number of community college students transferring to one of the three public universities in the state. He also won one of 20 all-USA Academic Team scholarships for the top community college students in the country.
The student said he received aid because he "met the requirements and criteria stipulated on the All-Arizona Academic Team Scholarship rubric under 'acceptable forms of citizenship,'" which includes work permits.
"The conversation with the Financial Aid Office made me feel lost and desperate for answers," he said.
An ASU administrator explained that under the state's Proposition 300, passed in 2006, undocumented students are ineligible for state scholarships, Luján told the Arizona Daily Star. However, in 2015 a federal court ordered Arizona to allow DACA recipients to receive in-state tuition.
By law, undocumented people are prevented from receiving financial assistance from the federal government to study.
Sarah Harper, the spokeswoman for the Board of Regents of public universities in Arizona, told the Daily Star that’s why Luján wasn't eligible for the All-Arizona Academic Team Scholarship.
But Luján didn’t give up. Five days after getting the bad news, he launched a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to raise the roughly $18,000 needed to pay for his studies.
He had already moved from Tucson to Phoenix, had rented a place to live and even managed to transfer his job as a cashier at a grocery store. He had nothing to lose and much to gain.
"Growing up in a poor home, with a single parent, in a Latino neighborhood, makes you question if you can really succeed and become an important person, especially when you have to fight for your education," Luján wrote on GoFundMe.
"In high school I spoke with a college counselor. He said there was no chance I could go to college due to my undocumented status and that I should worry about getting a job to support myself. I was devastated. I felt as if I had to resign due to circumstances beyond my control," he added.
But the generosity of nearly 400 people who heard his call made it so that he didn’t have to give up on his dreams. In less than a month, they donated $23,985 to pay for his tuition, well over the $18,300 he asked for.
Many left messages of encouragement. Amanda Battaglia, who donated $20, wrote: "For me, anyone who is willing to work so hard and persevere is worth this money! Follow your dreams knowing that we are behind you, no matter where you come from."