Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Student loan plan for 'Dreamers' at UC, Cal State advances

"Dreamers" from UCLA's IDEAS support network prepare to enter their graduation ceremony in 2012.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra

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Potentially thousands of students brought to the US illegally as children could turn to a $9.2 million loan program for help with tuition at California's public universities.

Under a proposal that cleared a Senate education panel Wednesday, the campus-based loan program would be funded in part by California State University and the University of California. In the first year, the schools would provide $2.3 million. The state general fund would cover the remaining $6.9 million — an amount that would double each year until the program became self-sustaining. 

Since 2001, California has allowed so-called "Dreamers" to pay tuition at lower in-state rates, and starting last year, they could apply for state tuition aid for low-income students, or Cal Grants. But sponsor Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, pointed out that these young adults do not qualify for loans from the federal government or private lenders.

Because of these restrictions, those attending UC schools are missing upwards of $5,000 in loan assistance when compared to classmates in similar financial situations, according to estimates provided by Lara.  For their fellow students at Cal State, the projected amount is about $3,000. 

“If we’re serious about strengthening our economy then we must remove obstacles for our future workforce when they’re close to the graduation finish line," Lara said in a statement.

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-0 for SB 1210, which heads next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Lara's bill was endorsed by State Chancellor Timothy P. White and UC president Janet Napolitano who said in a statement that "I believe we should work as hard to ensure that (Dreamers) have every chance to succeed, including providing them access to equivalent resources as their campus peers."

Napolitano has faced criticism by immigration activists for her tenure as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, which oversees deportations.  But as UC president, she's tried to bridge the cost gap for UC students in the country illegally. In October, she authorized that $5 million in university reserve funds be used to provide Dreamers with financial aid, advisors and student service centers. 

Estimates peg the number of Dreamers attending UC schools at 1,300; and 6,400 at Cal State system. 

Other states are following California's lead, and moving forward with plans to make it easier for students without legal status to attend college. In Florida, a controversial bill to offer in-state tuition to Dreamers has passed the House, and is now before the Senate.  A total of 15 states extend this benefit to these students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.