Connecticut two steps closer to educational equity

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On May 19, the Connecticut legislature took two important strides in an attempt to achieve educational equity. On that day the Senate passed bill SB 398 and the House passed HB 6844.

If these bills pass and are signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, it would continue to pave the pathway toward educational equity of two disenfranchised groups in Connecticut—undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students.

Undocumented students are individuals who are not U.S. citizens, do not hold current permanent resident visas, and have not been granted admission under rules for longer-term residence or work permits.

DACA refers to President Obama’s executive action announcements in June 2012 and November 2014, which grant some undocumented immigrants a reprieve from deportation, the eligibility to receive a Social Security number, the ability to obtain work authorization, the capability to leave and return to the country, and perhaps most importantly, lawful presence. As of March 2014, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that 553,197 individuals have received DACA—a mere 3,465 of these from Connecticut (or 0.62 percent).

As a scholar on this topic, I have conducted several research studies that have identified numerous barriers undocumented students and DACA recipients encounter in relation to their access to and persistence in college. A significant barrier that prevents these students’ greater college access and success is the absence of public policies that provide higher education benefits to these populations. Enactment of HB 6844 and SB 398 would provide some limited, though important, higher education benefits to these populations.

According to the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance, Connecticut is one of 19 states that already provide in-state resident tuition to undocumented students. HB 6844 would shorten the length of time from four to two years that undocumented students would have to attend high school in the state in order to be eligible for in-state resident tuition. This would be similar with a neighboring state, New York, which requires these students enroll for two years in order to receive in-state resident tuition. On the whole, this bill would not present a significant change in existent law and practices at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The second legislation, SB 398, would provide financial assistance to some DACA students; it would not extend aid to undocumented students.

This bill would provide DACA students access to a small pool of funds that institutions typically provide to low-income students. These funds come from tuition payments that students pay each semester. Those undocumented and DACA students who enroll in a Connecticut public postsecondary education institution contribute toward this pool of money. However, given their immigration status these students are not eligible to be considered for these funds. Enactment of SB 398 would allow DACA students to become eligible for this financial assistance.

As correctly documented by the Office of Fiscal Analysis, if enacted, SB 398 “does not alter the fiscal impact . . . as it is technical and procedural in nature.” In other words, the bill would not cost taxpayers any money nor would it reduce the dollars colleges and universities could award students.

The only “cost” associated with this legislation would be changes in procedures that the Board of Regents (and all the colleges it oversees) and University of Connecticut would need to implement. Other states (e.g., California, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington) have already implemented legislation that provides students without documentation eligibility to state financial aid.

Those states have developed financial aid applications and processes that collect necessary information for colleges and universities to make aid decisions—mostly notably are the California Dream Act Application and Texas Application for State Financial Aid. Thus, similar to HB 6844, SB 398 would not present any significant burden if enacted.

Without public policies such as HB 6844 and SB 398, the educational opportunities for these populations will continue to be challenging at best. The State of Connecticut has educated undocumented and DACA students through most, if not all, of their K-12 education. Enactment of these bills would be one step closer in Connecticut’s attempt to expand postsecondary education access for these students.

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