Undocumented students’ request for aid denied

Earlier this month, state education officials rejected a petition to extend in-state university financial aid to undocumented college students.

On March 6, Connecticut Students for a DREAM (C4D) filed a petition requesting access to financial aid for undocumented students. Although this petition was supported by many policymakers — including a spokesperson for the University of Connecticut and Gov. Dannel Malloy — the item was tabled in early April. Now, C4D must turn to other measures in order to give undocumented students access to aid.

“They said they don’t believe that they have the authority to make this change,” said Carolina Bortoletto, co-founder of C4D. “But our legal team has looked into it and they do have this power.”

C4D is a statewide network of undocumented youths, allies and educators that seeks to promote the rights of undocumented youths and their families through leadership development, community organizing and advocacy. The organization was started in the fall of 2010 by a group of undocumented college students in Connecticut advocating for the Connecticut DREAM Act.

The DREAM act — which was passed in 2011 — gave undocumented students in-state tuition rates and lent C4D a measure of credibility. But as the organization began working with schools to ensure the implementation of the Connecticut DREAM Act and educate students about the new law, C4D discovered that they still needed to make college more accessible to undocumented students, said Lucas Codognolla, lead coordinator of C4D.

“We wanted to build on the victory of in-state tuition,” Codognolla said. “We quickly found that tuition is still very expensive for undocumented, low-income families, which is why we joined with the Yale Law School and began researching ways for undocumented students to get some kind of aid here in Connecticut.”

Last year, State Senator Andres Ayala, a Democrat from Bridgeport, introduced a bill on behalf of C4D that would open up either federal or state financial aid to undocumented students. When this bill died in committee, C4D filed a rulemaking petition with the Office of Higher Education, Board of Regents and Board of Trustees for the University of Connecticut.

The petition asked these agencies to loosen regulations or issue policies that would allow undocumented students to access institutional financial aid at public universities and colleges in Connecticut, said Claire Simonich LAW ’16, who works at the Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic and serves as counsel for C4D.

“Institutional aid is a type of financial aid generated from student tuition dollars, not state or tax dollars,” said Simonich LAW ’16, in an email. “These are dollars that undocumented students pay into but cannot access, even though they are eligible.”

C4D and the law school interns found that public universities are supposed to use 15 percent of tuition revenue to create in-house scholarship funding. Although undocumented students contribute to this tuition revenue, they are unable to access the scholarships because they cannot file FAFSA forms without social security numbers, Bortoletto said.

Although the petition received many positive responses from state legislators, university professors and interest groups, it was denied earlier this month.

The agencies’ refusal to allow for controversial reform is disheartening, said Codognolla, but C4D has many plans going forward and still hopes to achieve their goal of acquiring institutional aid for undocumented students.

Currently, C4D is building a campaign called “Afford to Dream,” which involves organizing campuses and youths in different regions of the state in order to raise awareness about education inequity. If both the community and people from within public universities begin pressuring higher education agencies to change the current policy, Bortoletto said she believes the agencies will eventually give in and use their authority to open up institutional aid.

The organization is also assessing whether it should continue with litigation and start pressuring Gov. Malloy to come out in full support of institutional aid.

“Connecticut has the highest achievement gap in the U.S., so Governor Malloy has been talking a lot about college affordability as part of his agenda for the election,” said Codognolla. “But when Gov. Malloy comes out and speaks about college affordability for all Connecticut families, he doesn’t mention that there are over 1,000 students that could potentially benefit from institutional aid.”

Texas, California, New Mexico and Minnesota are the only states that currently offer institutional financial aid to undocumented students.

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