Friday, July 12, 2024

Uncertainty is keeping undocumented California students from applying for financial aid

Each year, California invites students who are in the country without legal status to apply for the same financial aid as other students, but officials once again are concerned that fears are keeping students from seeking help.

“We’re 20,000 students behind,” said Lupita Cortez Alcalá, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, the organization that administers state financial aid.

The deadline to apply for aid through the California Dream Act is March 1 and as of Monday only 19,141 students had applied. Aid available to students who meet certain criteria includes private scholarships funded through public universities, state administered financial aid, university grants, community college fee waivers and Cal Grants.

Applications dipped last year as well, until state officials sounded the alarm. Ultimately, after weeks of advocacy and “cash for college” events to spread the word, 36,127 applications came in — slightly more than the year before.

The reasons for the dip may vary; college counselors at many high schools may be too overwhelmed to spread the word about applying for the aid. A report released this month by the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling found that in the 2014-15 school year, California had one of the nation’s highest student-to-counselor ratios, at 760 students for every counselor.

But some say that uncertainty of DACA may be the biggest reason since the program allows student to study and work without fear of deportation.

“There’s rumors about ICE raids all the time — some unfounded and some maybe founded,” said Jane Slater, a teacher at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, Calif., who also advises a club for students who are in the country without legal permission. “The headlines about immigration make people feel like they’re really in the spotlight. Kids are more afraid for their families than they are for themselves.”