More migrant workers and their children may go to college, thanks to a grant won by Western Michigan University. Its College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, will get more than $2 million over the next five years.
When Liliana Salas graduated from Michigan State University in 2009, she had to call her father’s boss to make sure he would be excused from work. Salas is now the interim director of Western's CAMP Program. She grew up as part of a migrant farm worker family familiar with educational challenges.
“Back in high school, a lot of my friends didn't graduate on time because they didn’t have enough credits. They were moving around. Also, not every school district offers the same types of classes. So, sometimes there’s no alignment there. And then, (if) you graduate and are able to go to college, a lot of times you don’t have anybody to guide you and to offer assistance.”
To address these challenges, Western’s CAMP program focuses on supporting first-year, first-generation undergraduates from migrant communities. It offers supervised study hours, peer mentors, and need-based financial aid to help them successfully complete their first year and beyond. Salas says it’s about breaking a cycle of poverty.
“Going off to college allows you to experience a better life. You may not become a millionaire overnight, but it allows you to have a job with benefits. It allows you to have a job where you don’t have to be exposed in the sun or the elements of the environment, or when it’s super cold. And it also gives you some time off. And so those are things my parents never had.”
Western’s CAMP program is one of only two in Michigan. And it’s the only one to get a federal grant this year. Diana Hernandez, the director of WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs, says it took eight years to win the funding from the U.S. Office of Migrant Education. As a Latina herself, Hernandez says she has a responsibility to pursue any opportunity that can open doors for migrant communities.
“Me sitting in an office writing a proposal is nothing compared to what happens in those fields with those families and those students. It was hard but it was worth the eight years.”
CAMP will enroll about 40 students each year at WMU through 2022. Nationwide, CAMP helps about 2,000 students annually.