Tuesday, September 26

Alternate financial aid form in the works to help access California Dream Act funds

The University of California Office of the President is working to create an alternative financial aid form for undocumented students to access state-funded financial aid under the California Dream Act.

Undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition will be able to receive state-administered financial aid starting January 2013. But these students often cannot use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form because they lack the necessary information ““ such as a Social Security number ““ to complete it.

The UC plans to work with the California Student Aid Commission to create a single application for undocumented students for both the University Student Aid Program and Cal Grants, said Kate Jeffery, director of student financial support at UCOP. It is expected to be completed by fall 2012.

Ideally, the same application will be used by California State University and California community colleges, she added.

Financial aid directors from all UC campuses met at UC Santa Barbara Thursday and Friday to discuss the development of a new FAFSA-like form, said Nancy Coolidge, the associate director of State and Federal Programs at UCOP.

The team is only working on preliminary plans. A new committee, specifically addressing the availability of Dream Act aid, will be created to work on the new financial aid application, Coolidge said.

The committee will hold its first meeting Nov. 18. Jeffery said it is too early to give concrete details on the form of the committee’s activities.

Although UCOP is currently at the drawing board, some obstacles to undocumented students’ access to state financial aid have been identified and possible solutions have been proposed, Coolidge said.

Questions are still raised over the protection of undocumented students’ privacy from state and federal agencies that might use the information for other purposes, including deportation, Coolidge said.

If included in the form, information such as the students’ city of birth, country of citizenship and current addresses would become available for request from other state agencies, she said.

“We do not want to put these students or their families at risk for deportation,” Coolidge said.

Additionally, the UC has to standardize identification protocols for undocumented students, she said.

Students at California’s public universities usually have either a Social Security number or visa ID, but many undocumented students lack such identification, Coolidge said.

To resolve this issue, UCOP is considering a plan to create a statewide identification system used by California universities and colleges to track qualifying students, even as they move to different campuses, she said.

Another gray area created by the DREAM Act is the lack of a system to verify undocumented students’ financial information, Coolidge said.

Some undocumented students may not be able to fill out paperwork accurately because they do not have tax forms or paycheck stubs, which would prevent universities from substantiating claims of financial aid eligibility, Coolidge said.

Student Regent Alfredo Mireles Jr. said the main goal is to let students know how to access aid through the California Dream Act.

“The real key to implementing the Dream Act is making sure we get the word out,” said Mireles, a graduate student at UC San Francisco. “Qualifying students need to know that the opportunities to access financial aid are available for them.”

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