The beginning of the new school year started for Eduardo Lujan-Olivas like many others: with the ringing of an alarm and preparing for his first day. But an hour before he could walk into his first class, Lujan-Olivias got an entirely different kind of wake-up call that put his entire academic future in jeopardy.
Lujan-Olivas, 23, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals grantee, was told by Arizona State University’s financial aid office that his status now disqualified him from a scholarship he had expected would waive more than $20,000 from his tuition.
The news shocked Lujan-Olivas, who had seen the tuition waiver approved on his student account for a month.
"I cannot describe the frustration, disappointment, and confusion I felt when I received the phone call from the Financial Aid Office on the first day of classes," Lujan-Olivas wrote.
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Lujan-Olivas, in a GoFundMe post he wrote to help raise money, wrote that he had always struggled to fund his education. He moved from Mexico to the United States at age 8 with his aunt, according to the Arizona Daily Star, and described growing up in a low-income single-parent household, discouraged even by people who were meant to advise him.
"In high school, I spoke to a counselor about college. I was told I had no chance of going to college because of my undocumented status and should instead worry about finding a job to provide for myself," he recalled in his GoFundMe post. "I was devastated, I felt as if I had to quit on education because of circumstances out of my control. Instead, this conversation lit a fire in me that has yet to burn out."
Lujan-Olivas went to Pima Community College, where he was vice president of his student government, volunteered for multiple groups and became a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member — all while working 35 hours a week at a QuikTrip convenience store to make ends meet, the Arizona Republic reported.
During his time at Pima, Lujan-Olivas also earned the now-disputed tuition waiver by making the 2016 All Arizona Academic Team, which would have forgiven two years of study at ASU, the University of Arizona or Northern Arizona University. Though he was not a citizen — the 2012 DACA program gives out work permits and defers deportations — the scholarship application said a work permit was enough to apply.
"I felt that I had been lied to," he told the Arizona Daily Star.
He chose ASU "out of a pool of Ivy League colleges and other Arizona universities because I knew I would be best educated here," Lujan-Olivas wrote. "I knew I would find a web of resources necessary to succeed and develop into the professional I aspire to become."
But Lujan-Olivas’ DACA status, which qualified him for in-state tuition because of a court ruling last year, does not actually qualify him for state or local aid, according to the president of the Arizona Board of Regents.
"It is truly regrettable that Mr. Lujan was awarded the All-Arizona Academic Team scholarship, only to find out that in fact DACA students are not eligible for the scholarship," President Eileen Klein said in a statement, according to the Arizona Republic. "Our universities remain bound by federal laws on financial aid that preclude DACA students from receiving any state or local public benefit."
Lujan-Olivas’ dilemma, she added, "points to a gap that still exists for DACA students – federal policy that keeps them locked out of state and federal financial aid."
Lujan-Olivas wrote that the financial aid office told him in that phone call to pull out of class, find scholarships or pay his own way. But "deadlines… have already passed" for several scholarships, he wrote, and "I will not allow my education [to] slip through my fingertips."
His GoFundMe has already raised more than $15,000 of the $18,300 he needs to keep attending school.
"There have been many times I wasn’t sure if I’d make ends meet or have food to eat," he wrote about his situation. "While it is difficult juggling all these activities, I am determined to be successful in all my endeavors."