Loan program could help meet financial need of undocumented UC, CSU students

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A California State Senate bill that would establish a loan program for undocumented students at the UC and CSU systems was announced Wednesday in the state Legislature.

Proposed by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Huntington Park/Long Beach, SB 1210 attempts to supplement financial packages for undocumented students who have financial aid but lack access to federal or private student loans. SB 1210 would enable undocumented students to receive loans, known as DREAM loans, if the student is exempt from paying nonresident tuition or meets equivalent requirements adopted by the UC Board of Regents and if the student applies for financial aid by the DREAM Act.

“We invest in California students from an early age and many of them have done what we’ve asked them to do: work hard, study and pursue a higher education,” Lara said in a statement. “Continuing to invest in our future and ensuring that all students have access to the funding resources they need to succeed should be a top priority.”

The initial funding would be set at $9.2 million — divided between state funds of $6.9 million and contributions of $2.3 million from higher education institutions. This bill also requires each institution to match the state funding it receives on a 1-to-3 basis.

SEALAlthough California provides undocumented students with in-state tuition and access to Cal Grants, the students are not eligible for Pell Grants or federal loans, which, according to Nohemy Chavez, counselor and coordinator of the campus Undocumented Student Program, results in a gap of about $8,000 per year in financial aid packages for undocumented students at UC Berkeley. To supplement this gap, many are forced to take semesters off or find outside jobs, if they have work authorization.

“When they get admitted, their immigration status is not considered,” Chavez said. “We believe here in the Undocumented Student Program that it is then the university’s responsibility to support the student as they complete a bachelor’s degree.”

There are an estimated 2,000 undocumented students in the UC system, according to the UC Office of the President. An estimated 300 DREAM Act-eligible students currently attend UC Berkeley.

“These are remarkable students, and they have remarkable stories,” said UC President Janet Napolitano, who spoke in favor of the bill, at the legislative hearing. “Their accomplishments should not be disregarded, nor their futures compromised, because of their undocumented status.”

According to Meng So, director of the Undocumented Student Program, while this legislation is an important first step to expand equity for undocumented students aspiring to higher education, the next step is increasing access to trustworthy support services.

“Being undocumented, you are taught to compartmentalize and invisibilize your identity, and with the fear of deportation, you don’t know who you can trust to talk to,” So said. “This makes having support services equally important to having equal access to an affordable education.”

Contact Taryn Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tarynshelby.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the number of undocumented students in the UC system is 1,300. In fact, the university estimates the number of undocumented undergraduate students to be 2,000.

A previous version of this article also incorrectly referred to the loans established by SB 1210 as State Education Access Loans. In fact, the name of the loan program has been changed to the California DREAM Loan program, with the loans now known as DREAM loans.