Christine Stuart photo

In 2011, Connecticut Dreamers were given the opportunity to pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges and universities, and this year they’re aiming for access to financial aid.

Connecticut Dreamers are students of undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and attended the state’s public schools, but through no fault of their own are in the country illegally. Many have received “deferred action,” which is a two-year safeguard against deportation and which has given them an opportunity to get a job and help their families.

But the cost of college, even at in-state tuition rates, puts a full course load out of reach for many.

Carolina Bortolleto and her twin sister, Camila, came to the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday to see if they could convince Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, and Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, to raise the bill for a public hearing.

“This is the next step forward,” Carolina said. “Although the in-state tuition bill allowed us to obtain higher education, we still can’t apply for state aid.”

Even at in-state tuition rates, immigrant students pay more than $8,500 annually to attend Connecticut state universities.

She argued that it doesn’t even cost taxpayers any money because financial aid comes from the 15 percent of tuition revenue redistributed back to the student body.

She said all they were asking for was a chance to have a public hearing on the bill.

CTNJ file photo

But Rep. Willis felt there was danger in asking for a public hearing, because Rep. Chris Davis, R-Ellington, is proposing a bill that would go back and eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Willis said other legislators may try to attach Davis’ legislation to the new financial aid bill as an amendment.

“I don’t know if I have the votes to stop it,” Willis said. “Connecticut did a great thing and I didn’t want to lose it.”

She said already this is a really tough year for the Higher Education Committee, which is dealing with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed $4 million cut to financial aid. She said the budget also for the first time says part-time community college students won’t have access to financial aid.

Bye offered similar feelings. She said the in-state tuition bill is little more than a year old.

“I just don’t feel like it’s the right time,” Bye said Tuesday.

She said there are just too many strains at the moment on the higher education system from increasing tuition rates and funding challenges,  and this request just “didn’t rise to the top.”

“We’re not asking for special consideration,” Bortolleto said. “We’re just looking for a chance to apply for the same aid.”

For Bortolleto, it’s a matter of fairness.

“All Connecticut students, including Dreamers, fund the education system with tuition dollars and tax dollars — but only some Connecticut students are eligible for financial aid,” a fact sheet by CT Students for a DREAM says. “Hard work and perseverance should not be discredited due to immigration status.”

Five other states, including New York, have passed or are considering legislation that would allow access to financial aid.