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More than $2 million in pledges pour into college fund for undocumented students in a month

Most of those pledges came into the Equal Chance for Education
nonprofit after a Tennessean story on the agency's founder,
Dr. Michael Spalding, and its first recipient, Melissa Patino Gonzalez

Story by Brad Schmitt

“Inside Nashville” Columnist

MARCH 15, 2022, Nashville, Tenn. – About $2.1 million in pledges have poured into a fund that helps undocumented students in Tennessee go to college, an amount that has thrilled and surprised the fund’s leaders, an agency publicist said.

Two things sparked the flood of pledges to the Equal Chance for Education (ECE) nonprofit, the publicist said — a Feb. 17 fundraiser with historian/author Jon Meacham and TV journalist John M. Seigenthaler and a Tennessean story last week on ECE founder Dr. Michael Spalding.

a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie
Photo by Molly Davis / Nashville Tennessean

Anette Guzman spoke at a fundraiser for ECE about her struggles to afford college and thanked founder Dr. Michael Spalding for his support on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022 at the Hermitage in Nashville. 

That story detailed how, more than 60 years ago, a broke, teenaged Spalding got help going to college from an older golf buddy.

Since that story was published, one donor pledged $1 million over 10 years and another donor pledged $200,000, publicist Angela Evans said. Both donors so far have chosen to remain anonymous.

More: Evening of Conversation with Jon Meacham, Don Graham, and John Seigenthaler raises over $100,000

Equal Chance for Education also got dozens of smaller donations adding up to more than $200,000 since Thursday, Evans said.

“I will always be in awe of generosity of ECE supporters, in Nashville and throughout the U.S.,” Molly Haynes, ECE executive director, said in a statement.

“After these most recent gifts and commitments, notably, the $1 million gift pledged, ECE will be able to enroll more dedicated and deserving scholars this fall.”

ECE also recently got substantially more support from ongoing benefactor TheDream.US, a nationwide college fund for undocumented students started by former Washington Post Company chairman and chief executive Don Graham.

a man wearing a suit and tie
Photo by Nicole Hester / Nashville Tennessean

Dr. Michael Spalding — at his home in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, March 7, 2022 — started the nonprofit program Equal Chance for Education Program, which has helped send more than 400 Tennessee high school students to college, most of them Dreamers. 

Since its 2014 inception, ECE has signed up 20 Tennessee colleges and universities — including Fisk, Lipscomb, Cumberland and Trevecca Nazarene universities — to keep tuition to $10,500 a year for its students.

And ECE pays 60% of the bill for the students it accepts. The agency considers academic achievement, career goals and financial need when evaluating who gets its partial scholarships.

So far, 132 students have graduated with help from the nonprofit.

Help send Tennessee DREAMers to college.

The deadline to apply for the fall is March 15, 2022. That can be done through the ECE website.

Reach Brad Schmitt at or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

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