College Aid For Undocumented Students Up For Debate In Olympia

Feb 5, 2013

Wednesday hundreds of immigrants and advocates plan to gather in Olympia to lay out their priorities for lawmakers. One top issue is called the Washington Dream Act. State Senator Ed Murray introduced the bill Tuesday. Under the measure, undocumented college students would become eligible for state financial aid.

State Senator Ed Murray introduced the Washington Dream Act Tuesday in Olympia.
Credit Bluedisk / Wikimedia Commons

Three years ago, a similar “dreamer” bill in Olympia failed to move out of committee. This year, the effort likely faces another uphill battle. The measure aims to allow undocumented students to tap into the State Need Grant program. It provides financial aid to low-income college students.

On the University of Washington campus, a freshman we’ll call Rebecca has already mapped out her college years.

“I want to get a Masters in Education and maybe a Ph.D. in Latin American studies and teach at a university about Latinos," Rebecca says.

Rebecca’s not her real name. She declined to use it because she’s in the country illegally. Six years ago, her family came here from Guatemala on a tourist visa. Then, she says, they found it hard to leave.

With a GPA just shy of 4.0, Rebecca’s managed to earn several private scholarships. She thinks they’ll cover about two years of college. She also plans to get a job soon, now that a new federal policy allows her to get a work permit.

But she’s hopeful the state aid will come through as an option for her…and for hundreds of other immigrants who can’t afford college.

“Unfortunately we do not have $14,000 in our pocket to pay for tuition," Rebecca says. "What about books? What about housing? What about transportation? So we need this just to realize our dream just like anybody else is doing it."

But demand for this pot of financial aid is much higher than what’s available. The agency that runs the program says last year more than 31,000 eligible students were turned down.

Opponents of this proposal highlighted that demand last time this issue came up in Olympia, in 2009. During a public hearing, they raised concerns that fewer U.S. citizens would get funding if more undocumented students are eligible. They also warned that state aid could become a magnet for more undocumented immigrants to move here.

Next school year, as college tuitions go up, the financial aid pot will also increase slightly to about $300 million.

Copyright 2013 KUOW