An estimated 65,000 – 80,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year. However, only 5-10% of these graduates go on college. Many California universities are making it a little easier.
Undocumented youth, known collectively as “DREAMers,” are perhaps the most resilient and self-sufficient students arriving to college campuses today. Typically raised in households with few resources and opportunities afforded the typical native-born U.S. citizen, DREAMers have persevered to find a path to higher education.
The term DREAMers is used to describe younger undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children with no legal status. To be “undocumented,” one has either never had an immigration status (entered without inspection) or had a legal immigration status (e.g. tourist visa) that has since expired. Although DREAMers are generally Hispanic, many originated in countries like China, Korea and the Philippines. It is estimated that over 2.5 million undocumented youth live in the U.S.
The Rise of DREAMers Resource Centers
California is home to the highest number of DREAMers, and California universities are responding. Schools within the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems have recognized the unique needs of undocumented students and several have put forth dedicated resources to support them. On some campuses, dedicated personnel are on staff to provide support for DREAMers and other campuses have take the additional step of investing in physical DREAMers Resource Centers that provide a safe haven and extensive counseling services for these students.
We know of eight programs within the CSU and UC school systems:
California State University System
|Titan Dreamers Resource Center|
|Dreamers Resource Center|
|Dream Success Center|
University of California System
|Undocumented Student Program|
|Undocumented Student Center|
|IDEAS at UCLA|
Most of the DREAMers Resource Centers provide student support that may include: assistance with AB 540 in-state tuition, scholarships and grants, referrals for legal advice, academic and career advising, counseling and other information workshops.
The CSU Long Beach campus is the latest to step up. The school’s DREAM Success Center opened last week.
DREAMers Resource Centers Help with the California DREAM Act
Many students don’t even know they’re undocumented until they begin the college process. Education in U.S. public schools through grade 12 is guaranteed by law, but the legal and financial barriers to college are numerous.
The vast majority of the nation’s state colleges and universities continue to charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition fees even if the student is a longtime resident of the state. By our count, there are 21 states with DREAM Acts, legislation or policies that make undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition. Of those, only five (California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington) make state financial aid available.
|State||Bill/Policy||Year Enacted||Financial Aid|
|New Jersey||SB 2479||2013||No|
|New Mexico||SB 582||2005||Yes|
|New York||SB 7784||2002||No|
|Rhode Island||Policy S-5.0||2011||N/A|
You can also visit the National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC) website for additional information on State Laws & Policies on Access to Higher Education for Immigrants.
California’s DREAM Act exempts undocumented students from paying nonresident tuition and allows them to apply for different types of financial aid. To qualify, student must have:
- Attended a CA high school for at least three years or graduated early from a CA high school with the equivalent of three or more years of credit; AND
- Graduated from a CA high school or passed the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), or obtained a certificate of General Education Development (GED); AND
- Enrolled in an accredited and qualifying CA college or university; AND
- Completed an affidavit to complete immigration status as soon as eligible.
California’s Dream Act actually has four components:
- AB 540 extends the benefit of in-state tuition (only at public colleges and universities) to undocumented students who have attended at least three years of high school in the state.
- AB 130 allows eligible AB 540 students to apply for and receive institutional aid, derived from non-state funding sources.
- AB 131 allows eligible AB 540 students to access state funded financial aid programs (e.g. Cal Grants, State University Grants and Board of Governor’s Fee Waivers).
- AB 2000 addresses the situation where a student graduates high school in fewer than three years with the equivalent course work but it ineligible for in-state tuition due to AB 540’s three-year requirement.
DREAMers Resource Centers at California universities spend much of their time educating students about California AB 540 and applying for in-state tuition.
California DREAMers’ Access to Financial Aid
What’s more, undocumented students don’t qualify for federal grants or loans, even if their parents pay taxes. However, some states do grant eligibility for state financial aid to undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition. DREAMers Resource Centers are also facilitating students’ searches for scholarships that do not require citizenship. In fact, an increasing number of private financial aid is being established for undocumented students. But it is far from sufficient to meet the need.
Henoc Preciado, coordinator for Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Dreamers Resource Center, says they spend the majority of their time helping students complete the CA DREAM Act Application for financial aid and assisting with scholarship applications.
Preciado adds, “Three weeks ago I met a young undocumented man on our campus who was paying for his tuition without receiving any financial aid (he had been doing this for two years). The reason for this was because he did not know that he could benefit from financial aid as an undocumented student. This year, he submitted the CA DREAM Act application for financial aid for the first time, and he is excited about the possibility of not having to work as much and focus more on his studies. This is a result of faculty knowing about our space, and referring students to us when they are seeking information.”
Here’s a look at the financial aid available to DREAMers in California:
|In-State Tuition||Check AB 540
|AB 540 Affidavit and AB 540 nonresident
|Varies by school|
See E4FC list
|Institutional Scholarships (for CSU/UC and CCCs)||Yes||Varies||Varies|
|UC Grants||Yes||DREAM Act Application||March|
|CSU Grants||Yes||DREAM Act Application||March|
|Board of Governors (BOG) Waiver||Yes||DREAM Act Application
or BOG Application
|Varies by CCC|
|Extended Opportunity and Services Program||Yes||Check with respective CCC||Varies by school|
|Educational Opportunity Program||Yes||Check with respective CSU or UC||Varies by school|
|Cal Grants||Yes||DREAM Act Application
& GPA verification
|Chafee Foster Youth Grant||Yes||No longer available||N/A|
|Private Loans||Yes with legal resident co-signer||Check with respective financial institution||Varies by institution|
|Federal Government Grants||No||N/A||N/A|
DREAMers Resource Centers Facilitate with DACA
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has had a meaningful impact on students and their professional futures. The program, launched by the Obama administration in August 2012, provides protection from deportation and employment authorization for a renewable two-year period. (Recent executive action lengthened the term to three years, but a federal court injunction has this order on hold.) While the additional costs associated with applying for DACA are an added burden for a struggling student, the benefits are clearly worthwhile for DREAMers. In addition to temporary relief from deportation and a work permit, DACA facilitates the process of obtaining a Social Security number and can be a prerequisite for certain financial aid programs.
In some cases DREAMers Resource Centers get support from on-campus legal services. For example, Berkeley Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Undocumented Students Program have partnered to provide free legal support and resources about immigration law to undocumented students at Cal. CitizenPath.com, an online self-help preparation services for USCIS forms, provides low-cost support to DACA applicants. However, DREAMers Resource Centers generally cannot provide the legal services required to support the DACA application process and limit themselves to referrals to legal service providers.
DREAMers Resource Centers do provide DACA-related information, seminars and referrals to legal service providers. The community provided by these centers also gives students a safe place to share experiences and ask questions.
Prospective College Students in High School
In addition to improving access to college, studies are showing that in-state tuition policies have other benefits. Research has indicated that adopting in-state tuition policy has even improved the odds that undocumented students will graduate. The policy can decrease the drop-out rate among non-citizens high school students by 7 to 10 percentage points. Another study authored by Robert Bozick and Trey Miller finds that Mexico-born non–U.S. citizen youth living in states that offer access to in-state tuition rates for undocumented youth are 65 percent more likely to be enrolled in school than their peers living in states with no explicit policy.
Ana Miriam Barragan, the Dreamers Coordinator at UC Irvine, helps incoming students and parents navigate the AB 540 process. UC Irvine’s DREAMers website also provides advice for students in their year prior to attending the school.
While not all colleges and services are available to undocumented students, the future is only getting brighter. High school DREAMers need to be creative and resourceful. Community service and internships greatly increase the odds of earning scholarships. Public sentiment and legislation continues to grow in support of policies that foster, not freeze the hopes and prospects of undocumented youth. There are plenty of reasons to dream.
Additional DREAMers Resources
The California Dream Act: A financial guide for undocumented students
Scholarships for Undocumented Students
Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC)
MALDEF Scholarship Guide
DREAM Education Empowerment Program (DEEP)
CitizenPath is the online service that makes immigration forms simple. We provide simple, step-by-step guidance through USCIS applications and petitions. Our low-cost service helps to simplify the process by explaining each question and providing alerts if your answer to a question could be a problem. Most people do not need a lawyer to prepare USCIS forms, but many need a little assistance. That’s where CitizenPath can help. CitizenPath provides support for the DACA Application (Form I-821D), Citizenship Application (Form N-400), Green Card Renewal (Form I-90), and several other USCIS forms.
Photo credit: Here & Now