Lucas Codognolla’s story is the classic immigrant saga: He’s working two jobs to put himself through the University of Connecticut’s Stamford branch, where he’s determined to be the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. But there’s a twist: He’s one of a handful of students taking advantage of a new law granting in-state tuition to undocumented residents.
That law is what is making UConn possible for the 20-year-old Brazilian immigrant.
“Because of my status as an undocumented student, I’m not allowed to get any sort of federal aid,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I felt like I hit a wall. You have dreams of pursuing a college degree and a career. It’s a shame that your dreams can be crushed because of financial reasons, simply because you can’t afford college.”
The law was passed in May over the objections of critics who said giving undocumented students a tuition break would take seats away from legal residents. Backers said the impact would be minimal.
It appears the supporters were right, at least so far: UConn reported nine undocumented students currently receiving in-state tuition, three at the Storrs campus and six spread among its regional campuses. The Connecticut State University System, consisting of Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut state universities, reported fewer than 10 students system-wide.
The situation at the state’s 12-campus community college system is less clear. There is no centralized data, and many of the colleges aren’t tracking the number of undocumented students. In addition, assistant chancellor Mary Anne Cox said, some of the community colleges never considered legal residency a requirement for in-state tuition eligibility, and simply asked students to prove they lived in the state or declare that they intended to seek citizenship.
Codognolla took that route to get in-state tuition at Norwalk Community College, where he graduated with an associate’s degree and a 3.8 grade point average. But pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science at UConn Stamford would have been out of the question without the new law.
“It helped me out a lot,” he said, explaining that he comes from a family of six children, including a sister who started at NCC this fall. She is also receiving in-state tuition.
“It helped my family out a lot. It gives us the opportunity to continue. I know that, based on my status, I’ll run into bigger obstacles in my life, but at least I have that college degree.”
Codognolla fulfilled the legislation’s requirements by attending four years of high school in Connecticut and signing an affidavit stating his intent to seek citizenship. His tuition bill for the year is about $8,256, a third of what he would have paid at out-of-state rates.
Even at the reduced in-state rate, however, Codognolla can only afford to go to school part-time: His undocumented status makes him ineligible for state or federal financial aid. He works as an English and math tutor and takes care of administrative office work for a construction company to help pay the bills.
“I think that with having the in-state tuition pass, we were able to provide some awareness about undocumented youth,” he said. “Hopefully other policies will come up later on that can help us, like other states passed legislation that allows undocumented students to receive in-state tuition and financial aid from the state.”
Codognolla, who has lived in the United States since he was 9, said the in-state tuition bill has meant more than a less-expensive college education: It has empowered him and other students as undocumented citizens.
“I’ve become much more confident in myself and my abilities, regardless of my status,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot of support.”
“There are students like me out there, students who have so much potential,” he added. “Once they reach that age where they realize the impact of their status, many of them drop out of school because they feel like they have no future. There’s still hope. Regardless of your status, you can still get an education in Connecticut.”