They won the right to pay in-state tuition in 2011 and on Tuesday Connecticut’s undocumented students got one step closer to accessing $100 million in financial aid.
The Senate approved legislation giving Connecticut’s “Dreamers” access to financial aid after about an hour of debate. The bill passed on a 24-12 vote and now heads to the House where there was a lengthy, seven-hour debate Tuesday on another bill that shortens the amount of time these students have to live in the state to qualify to pay the in-state tuition rate. The House bill passed 78-70, making it one of the closest votes of the session.
The state’s colleges have a practice of setting aside between 15 and 18 percent of the tuition collected from all students and distributing it as financial aid to needy students. The bill passed Tuesday by the Senate would give these Dreamers access to those funds, so no state money would be set aside for the fund.
“Dreamers” are the children of parents who illegally immigrated to the United States.
Sen. President Martin Looney said these students are not eligible for federal financial aid and this legislation recognizes a group of people striving to achieve the American Dream.
“Many of these students have lived in our state for virtually their entire lives; they are our neighbors and our children’s friends and classmates,” Looney said. “They are a significant part of Connecticut’s future. Students who attain degrees from public universities and colleges in Connecticut are more likely to build careers here in Connecticut.”
But some lawmakers objected to giving these students access to the financial aid without some sort of guarantee or promise that they will reside in the state for a certain period of time and follow through with the federal government and become U.S. citizens.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said that when her parents immigrated to the United States they had to follow the law and participated in the process to become U.S. citizens. She said she didn’t believe it was fair the state would give a benefit to these students who, through no fault of their own, were brought illegally to this country by their parents.
“When you’re in competition someone has to lose because that is not an unlimited amount of funds,” she said.
The sentiment was similar to opposition in the House where they debated shortening the residency requirement to qualify for in-state tuition from four years to two years.
“We are giving a financial benefit to illegal immigrants to come to the state of Connecticut and attend our state universities and colleges,” Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, said. “Under this particular bill we’re making it even easier to do that.”
He said the bill they passed Tuesday in the House makes it easier for an “illegal immigrant” to establish residency and to take financial benefits from the university system, making it “harder for our constituents to access these services and these financial benefits.”
Republican lawmakers wanted to know how many students have benefited from the in-state tuition program instituted in June 2012. Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said he was unable to offer a number. He said it’s likely between “dozens and hundreds” but he couldn’t say for sure since the information they would need is confidential. He said even if the universities wanted to share the information, they would be unable to do so.
Republican lawmakers also argued that by expanding the number of undocumented students applying to these schools, they would be taking the place of students who have lived in Connecticut their entire lives.
“These students are not eligible for any federal financial aid,” Lemar told his colleagues in the House.
He also argued that there is excess capacity at Connecticut’s four state universities and 12 community colleges and allowing these students to attend will boost the bottom line at these institutions. Republican lawmakers pointed out that not every student who applies to the University of Connecticut is accepted.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed the bill to shorten the amount of time a student has to live in the state to qualify for in-state tuition.
“The governor is proud to have led on this bill, because the legislation passed today moves Connecticut forward tomorrow,” Devon Puglia, Malloy’s spokesman, said. “It helps us build a brighter future not just for our children now, but for our economy in the long-term. Easing access to college will help develop an even stronger workforce, bolster our communities, and most importantly, is morally right.”
Connecticut has the strictest threshold to qualify for in-state tuition, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most states make three years the threshold. The bill approved by the House Tuesday lowers it to two years.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington currently allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid.