Not this year: Financial aid for undocumented students

"I don't want my dream to end here," Capital Community College Student Jose Diez told college leaders.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / The CT Mirror

"I don't want my dream to end here," Capital Community College Student Jose Diez told college leaders.

Jose E. Diez will soon graduate from Capital Community College in Hartford with an associate’s degree in business management and accounting.

“I don’t want my dream to end here,” he told the governing board of the state’s dozen community colleges and four bachelor’s degree- granting universities Thursday, while standing beneath a large banner hung by the college that read “Creating Access, Changing Lives.”

But Diez is an undocumented immigrant, comes from a low-income family and can’t afford college without help.

The problem is he is not eligible for financial aid — and that’s not likely to change this year.

College officials told Diez and the others seeking equal access to the millions of dollars the state’s public colleges give to other low-income students for tuition that they cannot legally offer them financial aid.

“We are prohibited by federal law from providing financial aid without state approval,” said Regents Chairman Nicholas M. Donofrio.

Donofrio said later during an interview that he is empathic, knowing that these students need aid and wishing that his 92,000-student college system could open this stream of help.

“How could anyone disagree?” he asked.

Federal law restricts state agencies from providing financial aid to undocumented residents without a state law allowing its colleges and universities to do so.

Connecticut has no such state law. California, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois and Washington have all passed legislation allowing undocumented students to receive aid.

While Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters yesterday he is open to providing these students financial aid, he will follow the legislature’s lead on changing the law.

But the legislature is not likely to act this year, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said during an interview.

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

Joseph said the Democratic senator from New Haven is “generally supportive” of the concept but the best solution right now is for action at the federal level to help students gain access to financial aid.

A spokeswoman for The University of Connecticut, the state’s other public college, said the school welcomes a change but cannot do anything until federal or state laws change.

“That requirement limits us,” Stephanie Reitz said. “We are watching it as closely as other institutions.”

Three years ago, state lawmakers changed state law so public universities could charge undocumented students who graduated from Connecticut high schools in-state tuition. That change has reduced tuition costs for 53 students at UConn so far.

While lawmakers debate the issue, Diez said he’s not sure how he will continue his education beyond community college.

“My dream is to go to CCSU, UConn or Yale. Unfortunately, without help. I probably won’t be able to fulfill my dream,” he said.

“I want to continue. I want a good job,” Diez said.

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