CTNJ file photo
Lucas Codognolla and Junior Sierra outside the governor’s office in May (CTNJ file photo)

After a year-long lobbying effort, undocumented students were able to convince some lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that they should have access to financial aid.

These students, or “Dreamers,” are the children of undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and attended Connecticut’s public schools, but through no fault of their own are in the country illegally.

They won the right to pay in-state tuition rates in 2011, but cost remained a factor for many.

“Even with in-state tuition, we saw that a lot of undocumented students were still not going to college — the cost was a barrier,” Lucas Codognolla, lead director of Connecticut Students for a Dream, said.

Both Senate President Martin Looney and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy want to expand their access to higher education this year.

Looney proposed a bill to address educational equality by allowing undocumented Connecticut students to receive open access to state financial aid.

“Having created the opportunity for greater equity for in-state tuition, the next step is to provide access to some financial aid, especially the financial aid that is based upon student fees or the institutional financial aid that is based upon the fees that students pay into and it’s certainly equitable for them to be able to access financial aid based upon the fact that they are paying tuition into that fund,” Looney said last week.

Currently, at least five states — California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington — allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

“Without access to financial aid, higher education remains out of reach for undocumented students, many whom come from low-income families,” Codognolla said in a press release. ”All students deserve access to higher education, which is increasingly necessary in today’s economy and for Connecticut’s fastest-growing jobs.”

Looney will hold a press conference before a public hearing Thursday with Codognolla and other leaders of Connecticut Students for a Dream to discuss the bill and share stories of undocumented students seeking higher education.

Malloy recently introduced a bill that would shorten the timeframe it takes for undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition from four years to two.  The governor also allotted $450,000 in scholarship money in his two-year budget for these students, according to Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy.

“We believe in expanding access, supporting students no matter where they were born, and building a brighter future. While Republicans across the nation believe generations of immigrants should live in the shadows, Governor Malloy is taking steps to make students — and our state — more successful in the long-term. We’re proud to be a national leader on this issue,” Puglia said.

The Governor’s Scholarship Program, established under Malloy in 2013, created a unified, need-based aid program for state residents, and also replaced the state’s existing student aid programs.

But Malloy proposed a bill to bar private college students from receiving state financial aid funds through his scholarship program. The Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges said in a press release that “the savings achieved by this cut pale in comparison to the policy implications it will have on needy students and the state’s workforce.”

Looney said that he does not support Malloy’s proposal. “If they are Connecticut students they ought to be able to access those programs whether or not they are attending a public or private college,” he said.

Puglia was noncommittal in regard to Looney’s bill. “If the legislature ultimately passes a bill beyond what he [Malloy] has budgeted for, we will carefully review it,” he said.

“We’re really glad this issue has come up again and that we have allies up at the Capitol,” Codognolla said.