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This Dream Is No Act — California Aids Immigrant Students





The California Dream Act went into effect on Jan. 1, allowing thousands of immigrant students a chance for the first time to apply for state financial aid to help pay tuition at state colleges and universities.

Within hours of going live, the online application system was overwhelmed by applicants and shut down.

“It was the first time the California Dream Act was implemented and we had some bugs,” said Patti Colston, a spokeswoman for the California Student Aid Commission.

“As soon as we found out, we contacted and notified students. To make sure their privacy was protected, we asked about 1,000 students to resubmit their applications,” she said, adding that no applications were lost.

By the March 2 deadline, 20,000 applications were received, said Colston. So far, 3,600 financial awards have been made to Dream Act-eligible students, averaging about $4,000 each. Applications are still being processed.

“Dream” stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.

About $13 million of the financial aid ‒ awarded to students based on academic performance – will come from money already set aside for low-income students.

Miguel Molina, 18, who lives near Los Angeles, received $500 to cover tuition for his next semester at East Los Angeles College. It’s a huge relief for Molino who was brought to the United States as a child without documents.

Last semester, his parents paid his tuition using their credit card, a $600 charge the low-income family can’t afford and was stressful for his parents, said Molino, who is majoring in English and wants to be a journalist.

“I applied online. I turned in the application and it was accepted. Now I don’t have to worry about it as much,” he said.

Access to financial aid, together with in-state tuition rates for non-citizen students who attended California high schools, and early education programs that prepare immigrant students ‒ and their parents – for college, are giving more students access to college.

Last year, for the first time, more Latino than white students applied for admission to California State University’s 23 campuses. The number of applications has dramatically increased again, from 86,147 a year ago, to 99,558 applications this year. More than a third of all applications to the state university are from Latino students.

The California numbers are part of a national trend, according to the Pew Hispanic Research Center.

In 2011, for the first time, the number of 18- to 24-year-old Latino students enrolled in college topped two million and reached a record 16.5 percent share of all college enrollments. Latino students are the largest minority group on the nation’s college campuses – and a majority group on many campuses – community college, state colleges and universities.

“The reality is that many undocumented students are financially strapped, they come from low income families. Their parents encourage their children to do well in school, to graduate, take college prep courses and tests for admission. Then, affording college is the problem,” said David Valladolid, national president and chief executive of the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE).

“A lot of students drop out of high school, disillusioned that they won’t be able to afford college. Parents question why they should emphasize college when they can’t afford to pay for their child to go,” said Valladolid.

PIQE helps immigrant families understand the public school system so they can help their children succeed. During a nine-week course, parents learn how to monitor their child’s progress in class, check homework, read a report card, calculate a grade point average, a keep their child on the path to college.

“It’s in our mutual interest to educate these young people to meet the demands of the future, to improve our own future, and to restore the economic position of our country in the global economy,” Valladolid said.

California legislators initially approved in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who graduated from California high schools, then approved access to public financial aid for undocumented students.

Without a path to citizenship, some students, like Miguel Molina, are unable to get jobs or even driver’s licenses like many other students their age to help pay tuition.

Molina has been approved under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers people under 30 who came to the U.S. as children, a chance to live without fear of deportation for two years. Approval means a social security number, a chance to work, and in some states, the right to apply for a driver’s license.

Although Molina has been approved for deferred action, he is still waiting for his Social Security card to arrive so he can get a job.

(Kathy Mulady joined the Marguerite Casey Foundation in 2011 as a reporter for Equal Voice, where this post first appeared. Republished with permission.)

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