Christine Stuart photo
Edgardo Perez, a student at Naugatuck Valley Community College (Christine Stuart photo)

Connecticut’s undocumented students are again calling on the General Assembly to give them access to financial aid at state universities.

Connecticut lawmakers passed a law back in 2011 allowing undocumented students, also known as Dreamers, to pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s public universities. The group is now fighting for access to financial aid at these schools.

These public universities are required to set aside 15 percent of tuition for institutional aid, which means these Dreamers are already contributing to the type of financial aid they are seeking.

A bill that would have given these Dreamers access to institutional aid passed the Senate last year, but never got called for a vote in the House.

Rep. Roberta Willis, who co-chairs the Higher Education Committee said that last year’s bill was “up against the clock” and a new version was already on the agenda for this year. She is hopeful that it will make it through in a timely manner.

Willis said that the Dreamers make a strong case and she believes they are “entitled to a piece of the pie they helped to bake.”

Connecticut Students for a Dream, or C4D, a statewide organization of undocumented students and allies, gathered Wednesday at the Capitol to push lawmakers to again address their grievances.

“Access to higher education is a barrier for many undocumented students,” Joseline Tlamamulco, a student leader of C4D at UConn, said. “Very few make it to college due to the non-existent support of institutional aid.”

Currently, the annual cost of attendance for residential students at the University of Connecticut is just below $26,000 and slightly over $20,000 for all four state universities.

Connecticut’s Dreamers point out that increasing access to financial aid has economic benefits to the state. According to information provided by C4D, a college degree raises the average tax contribution by $55,000 over the course of a lifetime.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, likewise said that this was an “investment in our future.” Looney, a supporter of the legislation, said the students who would benefit from this “are going to be able to contribute better to the future of Connecticut”  and would help the state to “compete in the increasingly challenging economy that we face.”

Edgardo Perez, a student at Naugatuck Valley Community College, came to the U.S. from Guatemala at the age of 16 and has supported himself financially ever since.

“This semester I was unable to continue my studies due to the high cost,” he said.

Perez said he hopes to pursue a degree in horticulture and agriculture and dreams of someday building a farm. “I will keep following my dream to attend college and graduate,” Perez said. “Institutional aid would help me achieve my dream.”

There are currently five states that provide financial aid to undocumented students. They are California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington.