Malloy supports financial aid for undocumented students

Financial aid for undocumented students

Photo Credit: CT Students for a DREAM

Advocates for undocumented students rally for financial aid outside the Board of Regents for Higher Education

Updated 5:35 p.m. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters Wednesday that he supports opening state-funded financial aid to undocumented students and will follow the legislature’s lead on the issue.

The Democratic governor was a key proponent of the change in state law in 2011 that now requires the state’s public colleges to provide in-state tuition to these immigrants if they attended high school in Connecticut. It was estimated that about 200 undocumented students would take advantage of in-state tuition when that law was changed.

“I think it’s in our best interest that Connecticut children who have attended our schools for high school diplomas have access to education. So I will work and certainly consider proposals on that,” Malloy said, in response to a question about whether he supports providing these students with financial aid.

Later in the day, a spokesman said the governor would want to see a final proposal before signing off.

There are two streams of financial aid state lawmakers can open to undocumented residents. The “Governor’s Scholarship” — which provides about $40 million a year to students — does not require colleges that receive the funding to open aid to undocumented students. Public colleges and universities also reserve a certain amount of their tuition dollars for financial aid, however these institutions don’t currently offer the aid to these students.

The holdup is that the institutions use the federal FAFSA financial aid form to determine who can receive aid, and only citizens can fill out the form.

There are, however, several scholarships that undocumented students can receive, the advocacy group, CT Students for a DREAM, reports.

The statewide coalition of students pushing for financial aid for undocumented students has hosted several rallies to put the issue on legislators’ radar.

Last week, this coalition formally requested the Connecticut Office of Higher Education to  rule on whether colleges must offer this aid to these students. The office has 30 days to respond.

The group last week also delivered to the Board of Regents a petition with hundreds of signatures supporting such a change. They also gave the college system letters of support from 15 state legislators, college faculty and other organizations.

“Many undocumented Connecticut high school students hope to pursue higher education. Unfortunately, many are unable to achieve this dream because they are ineligible for all federal and state need-based financial aid,” reads the petition. “We hope that the Board of Regents will act swiftly to address this urgent problem.”

Gregory Gray, president of the Board of Regents, which oversees 17 of the state’s public colleges, said his 92,000-student system is waiting for the state lawmakers to guide him on how to proceed.

“I will follow whatever they decide,” he said during an interview last week.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, said the Democratic senator from New Haven is “generally supportive” of the concept but the best solution is for action at the federal level to help students access financial aid.

“There won’t be any action this year,” said Adam Joseph, who pointed out that there are no bills for such a change currently before the legislature.

While the students wait for a decision from college officials and the Office of Higher Education, Malloy said he will work with legislators on the issue.

“I will be engaged in the discussion and follow the legislature,” he said.

Malloy added he expects significant pushback, based on the reaction from some legislators in 2011 when he was pushing to provide financial relief for these students by providing them in-state tuition.

“There has been pretty broad opposition to doing that,” he said. “There was a fair degree of opposition to extending financial aid… If you are asking me if it’s in the state’s best interest to make sure our high school graduates who want to get a college degree are able to get a degree, the answer is yes. That is in our best interest.”

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