If the $65,000 annual price tag on our Yale education is any indicator of the soaring cost of tuition in the United States, it is fair to say that the prospect of an affordable college education is null to many Americans and even more so to marginalized communities. For undocumented students, exclusion from financial aid at public colleges and universities consigns their dreams for higher education and a better life to just that -— a dream.
In this year’s legislative session, Connecticut lawmakers will be debating whether to ameliorate the economic position of undocumented students. A legislative measure has been proposed which, if passed, will equalize access to institutional financial aid for all students regardless of their immigration status. Connecticut DREAMers would finally have some of the financial support they need to bear the cost of higher education.
Considering that the present Connecticut legislature seems interested in improving educational equity, it would make sense for the state to offer undocumented students financial aid. Eighteen states currently offer in-state tuition rates for undocumented students; five states go further and allow them to receive state financial aid. With one of the worst achievement gaps when comparing white and non-white students, as well as low-income and higher-income students, Connecticut should pass legislation that demonstrates its commitment to educational equity.
Ethics aside, the legislation in question is essentially an investment in Connecticut’s economy. It seeks to provide undocumented students with institutional aid. Distributed by public colleges to students as need- or merit-based grants, this form of financial aid is funded by tuition revenue, not taxpayer money. The benefit of this particular revenue stream is that the expansion of institutional aid would pay for itself. Connecticut already requires state colleges to set aside 15 percent of tuition revenue for institutional aid to students. Thus, undocumented students who attend state universities already pay into this source of financial aid, even though they cannot qualify for it. The state’s failure to provide services to paying residents demonstrates why it is wrong to characterize undocumented students as mooching off government generosity.
Because financial aid provides an incentive to enroll in college, the expansion of financial aid would result in higher graduation rates. It is indisputable that a college education is beneficial to both graduates and society: By improving students’ employment prospects, a college education also increases state tax revenues. Faced with the implications of declining enrollment in Connecticut public colleges, policymakers would be wise to realize the fiscal benefits that the expansion of institutional aid would have. Five other states have already done so.
But, where do Yale and its students fit into the picture? As a private educational institution, Yale itself would not be affected by the proposed change. In fact, Yale already promises to meet 100 percent of undocumented students’ demonstrated need. This suggests at the very least that including undocumented students in financial aid packages does not cause financial aid infrastructure to crumble. Therefore, there is little reason to suspect that the expansion of institutional aid at the state level would put overall funding for financial aid at risk.
This Thursday, Yalies will have the opportunity to influence the Connecticut legislature. A coalition of activist groups on campus will direct a letter-signing campaign in order to collect signatures in support of the aid bill, which will then be presented to the legislature in Hartford. While this issue may not be immediately pertinent to the Yale community, it is to thousands of undocumented Connecticut students who dream of a better future. As residents of Connecticut, we have a responsibility to ensure that their dream becomes a reality. Sign the letter.
Roger Lopez is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .