Connecticut may allow undocumented students to receive financial aid

Photo: DACA student Evelin Flores, who receives a private scholarship to Eastern Connecticut State University but is ineligible for financial aid through her school. / Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Connecticut Dreamers say current state law unfairly prevents them from accessing funds they pay into at state schools

The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would end a ban on students without legal immigration status receiving institutional financial aid at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.

All students at Connecticut public colleges and universities pay tuition, a portion of which goes to their school’s financial aid fund. But while undocumented students pay into these funds just like their peers, they are barred from accessing the aid under current state law, which requires a Social Security number to apply.

That makes undocumented students, including DACA recipients, ineligible for many school scholarships and grants on top of being ineligible for federal financial aid. The average in-state tuition for a two-year college in Connecticut is $4,300, and the average in-state tuition for four-year public colleges is over $12,000. For many undocumented students, college in Connecticut is an expense they and their families cannot bear.

The bill, H.B. 5031, is officially known as An Act Equalizing Access to Student-Generated Financial Aid. Among its supporters, it is often referred to as the Afford to Dream Act.

If passed, Connecticut would join five other states — California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas and Washington — in opening up institutional aid to undocumented students.

John Brady, Executive Vice President of American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, called the current practice “profoundly unfair” in testimony to legislators.

“Institutional aid is not a hand-out from taxpayers,” he said. “All students who pay tuition contribute to these funds. However, not all students with financial need receive these funds.”

He encouraged members of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee to make sure this bill passes this year.

“Every year that passes with the current law is another year in which an unnecessary obstacle is placed between a deserving student and a college education,” he said.

Last week, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Connecticut General Assembly’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee 17-3 with mostly bipartisan support. Last year, the same bill passed the committee with a greater split of 14-6. This time around, Republican Reps. Tim Ackert, Whit Betts and Will Duff were the sole “no” votes.

This week, legislators filed the bill with the Legislative Commissioners’ Office, which provides nonpartisan legal counsel. That is an important step before taking the bill to a full vote on the floor of the state House of Representatives and Senate. Last year, the bill went through the same process before being tabled without ever reaching a floor vote.

Activists are determined to make 2018 different.

“It needs to pass this year because all these folks have waited too long. It’s long overdue,” Joseline Tlacomulco, a undocumented student, told UConn’s Daily Campus in February. “We’re asking for some of the money we’re paying into.”

The organization CT Students for a Dream has been fighting to make sure legislators hear their demands this year and pass the bill, which would take effect in the fall semester of 2019.

Last week, 250 undocumented students submitted testimony to House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz on the bill as part of their “day of action” in which the students and their allies occupied the state Legislative Office Building and met with representatives.

On Thursday, March 29, the group will be hosting an information session and phone banking event to encourage legislators to vote “yes” on the bill.