Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, took to Twitter in June 2017 to ask for ideas about a philanthropy strategy. Specifically, he was seeking ways to help people in the short term as well as long term.
That Tweet started to bear fruit today with the announcement of a $33-million contribution to TheDream.US from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos. The largest gift in the organization’s brief history will provide financial aid for 1,000 undocumented immigrant high school graduates with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. The Dream.US is the largest scholarship for Dreamers, partnering with 70 low-cost colleges and providing $33,000 per student to cover the cost of higher education.
“My dad came to the U.S. when he was 16 as part of Operation Pedro Pan,” Bezos said in a press release announcing the gift. Operation Pedro Pan was an exodus of unaccompanied minors from Cuba during the 1960s. “He landed in this country alone and unable to speak English. With a lot of grit and determination — and the help of some remarkable organizations in Delaware — my dad became an outstanding citizen, and he continues to give back to the country that he feels blessed him in so many ways. MacKenzie and I are honored to be able to help today’s Dreamers by funding these scholarships,” he said.
“Without this gift, most wouldn’t go to college,” said Donald Graham, co-founder of TheDream.US and chairman of Graham Holdings, Inc. Money available to most low-income people, such as Pell grants and loans, but Dreamers are ineligible for ineligible for federal grants and loans. They also get no state aid in 44 states and and must pay out-of-state or international tuition in more than 15 states.
Graham said he emailed Bezos after his Tweet to explain that the program matched his goal of meeting an immense short-term need while also changing the country in the long term. “One thousand people is a huge college class,” said Graham, a former owner of The Washington Post.
The Dream.US provides $33,000 per student in scholarship aid to help pay the cost of tuition, fees and books over four years. There are 2,850 students currently enrolled in college under the program, which works out to more than $23.5 million in aid, but approximately 800,000 Dreamers who have received DACA status since 2012.
The program is less than four years old so there are no graduation rates yet. Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US, anticipates a rate of 75 percent. Still, 94 percent of those receiving scholarships return to college after their first year, greater than the national average of 72 percent. The organization is accepting applications from Dreamers in 15 states until March 1, she said.
“The surest path to the American dream and contribution to the U.S. economy is through a college education,” said Henry R. Muñoz III, principal of San Antonio, Texas-based Munoz & Co. and a co-founder of TheDream.US, along with former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. “Four years ago, we thought maybe we could raise $1 million to help some young people who would receive no financial aid but for the beginnings of this program,” he said.
TheDream.US is a project of the New Venture Fund (NVF), which in 2015 reported $318 million in total revenue, including $315 million in contributions. NVF reported $56 million, including grants of $23 million, toward youth development and education, according to its 2015 Form 990.
Jeff Bezos’ parents, Mike and Jackie Bezos, are also among the early donors to TheDream.US. Others include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Pershing Square Foundation; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Bloomberg Philanthropies; Pierre and Pam Omidyar; the Robin Hood Foundation; The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the PepsiCo Foundation; the Coca-Cola Foundation; and Don, Bill, and Steve Graham.