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Far fewer undocumented students are applying for financial aid to attend California colleges— advocates cite fear and the end of DACA

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | November 15, 2017

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Undocumented students rally in support of DACA. (Courtesy: California Dream Network)


(New data released Nov. 21 to LA School Report show that the number of applications has increased to 46,568, which is only 4 percent below last year’s figure.)

The number of undocumented students in California applying for financial aid for college has dropped 20 percent this year, which advocates say is a direct result of immigration fears and the termination of the DACA program.

The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) data shows that 38,499 students applied for financial aid for the 2017-18 academic year through the California Dream Act, compared with 47,850 for 2016-17, as cited in a chart in the last California Dream Act update released in early June. A new update of these numbers will be released again at the end of the month as the period for applications 2017-18 is still open.

Since 2013, when the Dream Act was enacted, the number of undocumented students’ aid applications has increased at a rate of about 10 percent each year. But this fall, the increase has been cut in half, to 5 percent. The fact that there was an increase at all was due to a targeted media campaign addressing students’ fears, the commission’s staff said.

“This is the first time since the first year of the California Dream Act that the number only went up five percent,” said Patti Colston, a spokesperson for CSAC. “I believe there’s confusion with the California Dream Act and the status of DACA,” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Slightly more students receiving the financial aid used it to enroll this fall — 41 percent as of the end of October compared to 40 percent in the same period in the last two school years.

The CSAC processes financial aid applications for all public and private colleges and universities in California. The California Dream Act allows undocumented students meeting certain criteria to receive state-administered financial aid, private scholarships funded through public universities, university grants, community college fee waivers, and Cal Grants.

Also, state legislation AB540 allows non-resident students — both undocumented and citizens — who meet certain qualifications to pay in-state tuition. AB540 students qualify for the California Dream Act benefits.

Melody Klingenfuss, a USC student and organizer with the California Dream Network of undocumented students throughout the state, says, in reality, the dropoff in students applying for aid is much steeper.

“I heard in different panels that the decrease in applications can be as higher as 60 percent less undocumented students applying through the California Dream Act. I think they believe they no longer qualify because of the end of DACA,” she said.

“There has been a lot of misinformation. Most of them feel that because DACA is over, their access to college is over too. That’s why it’s so important they’re connected with our network and well informed about how the end of DACA has no effect on their education,” she said. “That is not related and that should not interfere with their college plans.”

News media including Univision reported last month that 30 percent of DACA college students did not re-enroll in the California university system for this fall. Earlier this year when media reported a 42 percent drop in the number of financial aid applications from undocumented students, CSAC launched a media campaign to encourage students to apply, and aid applications nearly doubled in the month before the March deadline.

“We did a survey in 2016 among (the financial aid) awardees to find out why some were not claiming their financial assistance, and the majority were not aware of their approval, but that was before the end of DACA,” Colston said.

“Students should know that their information is not shared with anyone else, is safe, and stays here in our office only.”

DACA, which will end March 5 unless Congress acts, gave protections from deportation to about 800,000 undocumented youth nationwide, 28 percent of them living in California. It also provided them with work permits that started expiring in September.

California higher education officials estimate that 72,300 undocumented students are enrolled at the state’s public colleges and universities (60,000 at community colleges, 8,300 at Cal State, and 4,000 at UC) and that half were protected by DACA. Spokespersons from the University of California and the California State University systems said there is no official data as these institutions don’t track students’ immigration status.

The “elevated level of anxiety” among DACA recipients and other undocumented students in general is behind the drop in financial aid applications, said Vivian Salazar, associate director of the UCLA Academic Advanced Program, during the workshop “Immigration and Its Effect on College Students” at the Alliance 2017 summit earlier this month.

During her presentation, she explained to educators and parents attending the workshop that a recent study of undocumented students at UCLA showed that 86 percent have a 3.0 GPA or higher.

“The data shows that they are academically strong students,” Salazar said. “But their feelings of fear, anxiety, and even guilt in the case of DACA students are having a negative effect on them and their education dreams.”

She also shared data that 90 percent of DACA students are worried about being deported, compared to 70 percent of undocumented students who are not DACA recipients.

“Whether DACA exists or not, these students are still going to college. We as educators, counselors, and parents have to support them, make sure we give them the right information about legislation and all the support networks they can find at their schools and outside organizations,” Salazar said.


  • Cal Grant, Chafee Grant, Middle Class Scholarship
  • UC Grants, State University Grants
  • California Community College (CCC) BOG Fee Waiver
  • Some University scholarships
  • Some private scholarships administered by campuses

The application deadline for all Dreamer Cal Grants and most of the other aid listed above is March 2.

* This article has been updated Nov. 21 as the California Student Aid Commission has provided LA School Report with the latest data on the number of applications. The new data shows that applications have dropped only 4 percent since last year. 


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