California sees worrying drop in immigrant “Dreamers” applying for financial aid

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, February 27, 2017

New figures from California show a stark drop in the number of students applying for new or continuing financial aid under the so-called “California Dream Act.” The legislation allows eligible undocumented individuals who have graduated from a California high school or meet other requirements to apply for state financial aid to help them access higher education.

The drop in applications was steep enough to concern the California Department of Education and California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), which have issued a joint letter urging school officials to encourage eligible students to apply before the March 2 deadline.

The letter acknowledges that undocumented individuals may be confused by recent events regarding immigration at the federal level, and emphasizes that the California Dream Act is state legislation and entirely separate from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The letter also addresses fears that students may have about their safety of their own or their family’s personally identifying information. It details the privacy protections in place in California, stating that “[t]he information provided via the California Dream Act Application is used solely to determine eligibility for state financial aid and is not shared with any other governmental agency,” and emphasizing that “students need to be reassured that the CSAC will take all available legal precautions to protect this information.”

The Los Angeles Times highlighted the dropping numbers in a February 23 article:

The drop in applications is even more striking considering that the [California Student Aid Commission] recently made changes to give students more time to apply. Last year, students only had from January through March 2 to submit requests for college aid. During that period, 13,200 students filed for first-time Dream Act grants, and 20,962 asked to renew their funding.

This year, officials opened up applications for Dream Act and other scholarships in October. But as of Feb. 17, only 8,668 students had applied for new grants, and 11,429 had applied for renewals.

California is one of a number of states that have passed such “state-level Dream Acts,” also referred to as “tuition equity” legislation. These laws do not allow an undocumented person to change his or her immigration status. Rather, they allow undocumented youth who have graduated from high school in a specific state to be eligible for in-state tuition rates at that state’s colleges and universities. (In states without such policies, undocumented students typically pay more expensive out-of-state or international student rates.)

In some cases, these state tuition equity policies also allow undocumented youth to receive state-funded financial aid. Such financial aid plays an important role in equipping young students to pursue their educational ambitions, because undocumented youth are not eligible for federal financial aid.

The National Immigration Law Center tracks the current status of tuition equity legislation and access to student financial aid across different states.