Undocumented Connecticut residents brought in from other countries as children who are hoping to attend in-state colleges will now have access to the state's financial aid resources.
The Connecticut state Senate, by a vote of 21 – 13, approved a measure that will open up these resources for undocumented students. Under the bill, undocumented immigrants will be able to compete in a $140 million pool of financial aid beginning next year.
Currently, Connecticut's public colleges set aside 15% of tuition dollars for financial aid. Undocumented students attending these colleges contribute to the aid pool through their tuition payments, but these students are not eligible to receive any aid.
Opponents of the bill, however, argue that undocumented students will strain the state's aid programs. Already, without adding any new aid applicants, 3,879 students did not receive the aid they requested last year. The opposition is led by Republicans, who argue that natural-born students will suffer the consequences of the proposed changes.
"We have a small population of people who are undocumented and are finding many challenges to obtaining a higher education, at the same time we have citizens of the United States who are struggling to afford college," said Senator Michael A. McLachlan, a Republican representing Danbury, Connecticut. "Why don't we figure out how to get the students on the path to citizenship? We're not fixing the core problem."
Last year the Connecticut Senate passed a similar measure, but it was rejected in the House. Connecticut's Governor, Daniel P. Malloy, a liberal Democrat, is rumored to support the measure. According to Jacqueline Rabe Thomas of TheCTMirror, over the last five years, under Gov. Malloy's administration, Connecticut has previously liberalized regulations dealing with undocumented students.
It is unclear how many undocumented students will take advantages of the changes. Legislators in support of the change claimed that anywhere from 200 to 1,000 students could seek aid. When the measure failed in the Senate in 2015, however, it was estimated that as many as 2,600 undocumented students might seek assistance. Today, supporters maintain that the system can withstand the influx of undocumented students without jeopardizing aid for documented students.
"It will not have a huge impact for cost, but the impact is huge for the students that will be able to go to college now," says Camilla Bortolleto, the policy director of CT Students for a Dream. She expects the cost of the legislation, which opponents say will be $9.7 million a year, will be manageable.
Nationwide, undocumented students seeking to come out of the shadows and pursue higher education are known as Dreamers. The Dream Act, a piece of legislation that failed to pass in the United States Congress in 2011, would have integrated these students into the country's education system. Ken Dixon of The CTPost reports that undocumented immigrants held a "Rally to Afford to Dream" in an attempt to lobby lawmakers to pass the bill.
If Connecticut's House passes the measure, Connecticut would join California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington in allowing undocumented students to receive financial aid.