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California’s moves to make college more affordable for undocumented students aren’t reaching most of them


Although California has taken steps to lower college fees for students who lack legal immigration status, only a small percentage of students are benefiting, according to a new study.

A report released Wednesday found that only 14% of the state’s estimated undocumented student population received state financial aid in the 2021-2022 school year, placing them in serious financial trouble for pursue their educational goals and earn a degree.

“The call to expand and secure college access and affordability for undocumented scholars in California comes at a critical time,” said Marlene Garcia, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, which released the report entitled “Renewing the Dream”. . CSAC is a state agency that administers financial aid programs and serves as a resource on the subject.

“As the state with the largest undocumented student population in the nation, California has led the nation in immigrant-inclusive education policy through groundbreaking policies and programs,” Garcia said. “Despite this significant progress, California’s undocumented student population still faces daunting challenges.”

Measures such as California Assembly Bill 540 or AB 540 and the California Dream Act give undocumented students access to in-state tuition and aid, as federal financial aid does not apply to people without legal immigration status, most of whom come from low-income backgrounds.

The California Dream Act Application, or CADAA, is used to determine financial aid eligibility for undocumented students and is the counterpart to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

CSAC found that 55% of CADAA applicants had a $0 expected family contribution based on family income, compared to 40% of those filing FAFSA applications in California to access financial aid.

Yet more than half – 53% – of the 94,030 undocumented students in post-secondary education did not complete the CADAA in 2021-22.

According to the report, undocumented students still face challenges when it comes to accessing information, navigating application processes, using campus resources and support, receiving assistance finances and to be able to afford a university.

Leonardo Rodriguez, 21, a transfer student at the University of California, Berkeley, struggled to get information about high school financial aid and said the application process was confusing.

“There were no other resources — most counselors didn’t even know where to find the information I was asking for or the answers to the questions I had,” said Rodriguez, a 2019 Kelseyville High School graduate and former CSAC Student Commissioner.

Rodriguez, who is also a recipient of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, said he first learned he had to complete the AB 540 affidavit to gain access. in-state tuition when he received a bill from his community college. for around $6,000 for his first semester – as if he were an international student or a non-resident instead of an out-of-state resident.

Once he completed the AB 540 affidavit, he qualified for the California College Promise Grant, which waived most of his tuition.

When Rodriguez later transferred to UC Berkeley, he said the school asked him to fill out 15 to 20 additional pages of information to complete AB 540, including voter registration, which does not apply. not to him since he is not a citizen. According to the report, AB 540 verification varies across higher education segments and between campuses.

The number of CADAA applications has dropped significantly – by 26% – for the 2022-23 academic year.

The report made various recommendations, such as simplifying and streamlining the CADAA by adding visual aids and revising the language to make it clearer and shorten the requests.

Few register and receive help

The report found that among students without legal immigration status who complete a CADAA, only 30% eventually enroll in a higher education institution and receive state financial aid, according to data from CSAC 2021- 2022.

According to the study, many undocumented students do not have work permits, which deters them from gaining relevant work experience in their field of study and discourages them from pursuing higher education, which they may not consider it a viable option.

“A lot of people have to work two or three jobs because they have to support their families,” said Patricia Jiménez de Valdez, financial aid manager at American River College. “Parents, often – they themselves have two or three jobs to maintain because they are low-paying jobs.”

The report recommended creating more work authorization programs for students as well as more college scholarships and apprenticeship opportunities.

California Assemblyman Mike Fong, a Democrat and chairman of the California Assembly Committee on Higher Education, recently introduced four student-centered bills, including AB 1540, which seeks to include the AB 540 affidavit to access CADAA state tuition to apply. financial assistance — one of CSAC’s recommendations to simplify the process.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.