Katharine Gin, co-founder and executive director for the Education for Fair Consideration, is optimistic more scholarships from corporations and other funders will become available.
"They were moved by their stories. They felt like they deserved things but said, 'How can I justify putting money to these students when they cannot work in the end?'" Gin said. "I think that will change."
Cortes took AP classes in high school and was accepted to every University of California school she applied to. And while California is one of the states that allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, she said it was still too expensive. A private school offered her a $14,000 scholarship, but that would have covered only half the annual costs.
She decided to go to community college instead and found a full-time job as a cashier at a car wash to help pay. Like at many community colleges, the classes she needs to enroll in to study medicine — biology, chemistry — fill up quickly and to get in, she needs a higher credit standing. That means taking classes in other subjects, essentially paying for courses that will have little to do with her medical degree.
Frustrated, she started looking for other options. Her father, who lives in Mexico, helped her fill out the paperwork to apply for a medical school there, but because she canceled her plane ticket, she lost her seat for the exam and won't be able to take it again.
Cortes has read through dozens of news articles online and recorded Obama's speech on the White House lawn, watching it repeatedly and trying to figure out what to do.
"He was very specific in saying, Don't think the wrong way about this," she said. "This is nothing for residency or citizenship."
Cortes went to the Mexican Consulate, which put her in touch with an organization, Dream in Mexico, that helps students find educational opportunities in Mexico. She applied to El Tecnologico de Monterrey and is waiting for a reply.
If she gets accepted and is given a scholarship to cover her fees, she's leaning toward going, even though she applied to stay in this country.
Cortes figures she'll save time, money and could still end up practicing medicine one day in the United States.
"As much as I want to stay here and be with my family, I have to think of the future," she said. "I have to think what's best for me."
Follow Christine Armario on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/cearmario
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