Few Undocumented CA College Students Receive State Aid

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
California is one of 12 states that offers financial aid to undocumented students, who are barred from receiving federal assistance. Photo Credit: Nicole Berro / Pexels

Just 14% of California’s 94,000 undocumented college students receive some form of state financial aid, according to a new report.

Researchers from the California Student Aid Commission found that only half of the people who are eligible for state aid for higher education even apply.

Marlene Garcia, the commission’s executive director, said a lot of community college undocumented students apply to get their fees waived for coursework, but don’t realize they could get a Cal Grant to help with living expenses.

Paperwork appears to be one of the issues.

“They may be applying for the College Promise, and they think that they’ve completed the financial aid application,” said Garcia. “But then, they find out they have to complete the California Dream Act application. And sometimes, you’ll lose students in that process.”

Starting this year, state law requires all high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the California Dream Act application, so school counselors are going to have their hands full.

Garcia said many steps could be taken at the federal level to help undocumented students, including making the Pell Grant available, or reviving the DACA program and extending its provisions to allow students to have the right to work.

“If you’re an undocumented student and you don’t have work authorization to get a job after you graduate from college,” said Garcia, “that’s going to raise the question about where the value proposition is for a college degree for you.”

Another barrier is the requirement that undocumented students sign an affidavit that they attended at least three years of high school in California. A new bill now in the California Legislature would integrate that affidavit into the California Dream Act application.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.