Financial aid campaign to reach undocumented college students pays off

In this file photo students walk on campus at West Los Angeles College in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
In this file photo students walk on campus at West Los Angeles College in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

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After concerns last month that applications would be down, officials said on Tuesday that the final tally of undocumented students applying for college financial aid came in higher this year.

“We know that helping these students achieve this academic education will not only help our state but our nation and ultimately wherever they end up,” said Lupita Cortez Alcala, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission.

California has made state financial aid available to college students in the U.S. illegally for the last five years. Three weeks ago applications were at about 60 percent of what they had been same time last year.

But, after the final deadline, the tally of new and renewing applications was 36,012. The number of renewals was up by about 2,000 applicants compared to the previous year. The number of new applications was down slightly.

“The fear, especially with what was going on federally, was that this information would be used to target these students, and so we’re really proud of the fact that their families and students had courage,” she said.

The commission recruited state education officials, legislators, and college and universities to deliver a clear message: California would protect the data of undocumented college students from federal immigration authorities.

A California State University, Dominguez Hills spokeswoman said campus staff sent out emails and put up posters around campus to let students — in particular those in this country illegally — know that the March 2 deadline to apply for state financial aid was approaching.

At the Dominguez Hills campus, 1,334 undocumented students applied for aid last academic year and $2.1 million in financial aid was distributed through four aid programs, the spokeswoman said.

“We’ve sent emails to our students to let them know that their immigration status does not play a factor in receiving an education here at LBCC,” said Long Beach City College spokeswoman Stacey Toda in an email, “and we continue to monitor the situation regarding [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy] and the President’s executive orders.”

State financial aid for college and university students ranges from $1,700 to $12,000 each year. It’s not just available for use at public colleges. The state awards grants of up to $9,000 for students attending private California colleges and universities.