On Wednesday, hundreds of immigrants and advocates plan to gather in Olympia to lay out their priorities for lawmakers. One top issue is called the Washington Dream Act, which state Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, introduced today. Under the measure, undocumented college students would become eligible for state financial aid.
In 2009, a similar bill in Olympia failed to move out of committee and the effort will likely face another uphill climb this year. The measure aims to allow undocumented students to tap into state financial aid for low-income college students, like the Washington State Need Grant program.
On the University of Washington campus, a freshman we’ll call Rebecca has already mapped out her college years. She said she wants get a master's degree in education and possibly a doctorate in Latin American studies. Her goal is to someday teach at a university.
Rebecca declined to use her real name for this story because she’s in the country illegally. Six years ago, her family came to the U.S. from Guatemala on a tourist visa. Then, she says, they found it hard to leave.
With a GPA just shy of 4.0, Rebecca has managed to earn several private scholarships. She thinks they’ll cover about two years of college. She also plans to get a job now that a new federal policy allows her to get a work permit. Still, she’s hopeful the state aid will come through as an option for her and for hundreds of other immigrants who can’t afford college.
“Unfortunately we do not have $14,000 in our pocket to pay for tuition," Rebecca said. "What about books? What about housing? What about transportation? So we need this just to realize our dream just like anybody else is doing it. Education is for everybody.”
Demand for this pot of financial aid is much greater than what’s available. Rachelle Sharpe, director of financial aid at the Washington Student Achievement Council, said last year more than 31,000 eligible students were turned down for the state Need Grant program.
Opponents of this proposal highlighted the unmet demand when this issue came up in Olympia in 2009. During a public hearing, they raised concerns that fewer US citizens would get funding if more undocumented students are eligible. They also warned that state aid could become a magnet for more undocumented immigrants to move here.
Next school year, as college tuition goes up, the financial aid pot will also increase slightly to $303 million.