In this past session, the state house failed to pass Senate Bill 147, An Act Assisting Students without Legal Immigration Status with the Cost of College. This bill, which passed through the state senate, would have rectified a gross injustice that public institutions in the state of Connecticut have committed against undocumented students and their families.
In the state of Connecticut, at least fifteen percent of all tuition revenue at public institutions must be allocated towards institutional aid. Undocumented students who are unable to fill out a FAFSA form are barred from this aid, despite paying into this pool. Instead, students with legal status disproportionately gain from a system that exploits undocumented bodies across the state.
Students from across the state rallied for a statewide policy that would make higher education more accessible for undocumented immigrants. Connecticut Students for a Dream worked through midterms, finals, weekly courses, and other obligations to garner support and lobby for the bill that would have changed the future for undocumented students statewide.
These students were not asking for handouts. Rather, they invited our representatives to stand on the right side of history. They tried to put their trust in a political system to codify great change and undo systems of oppression. Once again, that system has failed them.
In the wake of the House’s failure to change the course of history, one of our own public institutions, Eastern Connecticut State University, unveiled a new initiative in partnership with TheDream.US organization and Governor Malloy that targets out of state undocumented students. The Opportunity Scholarship can fully fund a bachelor's degree at Eastern Connecticut State University.
The privately funded scholarship will be awarded based on a strange mix of need, merit, and residency status. In addition to a 2.8 GPA and significant unmet financial need, applicants must be able to navigate an increasingly problematic, confusing, and discriminatory immigration system.
Only those who have applied for or been granted DACA or TPS approval and live in sixteen targeted “lock out” states where undocumented youth are forced to pay out of state tuition or barred from higher education all together will be considered. In addition to being confusing, a DACA application costs $465, a hefty price tag which prohibits many from entering the process. TPS is granted only in the most extreme cases.
These requirements mean that no one who entered the US after the age of 15, even if they enter as a high school student, is ineligible. Additionally, students already enrolled in colleges or universities are ineligible to apply for this scholarship in order to escape the burden of paying tuition of our pocket.
While neither Governor Malloy nor Eastern Connecticut State University developed these requirements, the fact remains that they have not taken other action in order to make higher education more accessible in our state. Entering a partnership through which a University accepts privately funded scholarship money does not make Eastern Connecticut State University or Governor Malloy less compliant in the oppression of undocumented students. In fact, while Eastern now proudly boasts that they “Believe in the Dream”, they failed to advocate for the bill that would have helped make that dream a reality in Connecticut.
It is easy to call out “lock out states” for their part in barring undocumented bodies from higher education. The fact of the matter, however, is that the state of Connecticut is locking out students every single day. Allowing public institutions to steal tuition money from undocumented students is certainly not unlocking any doors. Being allowed to pay in state tuition, but only out of pocket, is not what the dream looks like.
There is no doubt that this initiative presents a life altering opportunity for the undocumented students who will enroll in Eastern this fall. Ultimately, however, the Opportunity Scholarship is not changing the way that Connecticut’s public institutions and state legislature treat undocumented students and their families.
Just down the road from Eastern, undocumented students at the University of Connecticut pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend a University that refuses to grant them the aid they desperately need and deserve. The Opportunity Scholarship will not alter their realities or those of undocumented students already enrolled at Eastern. It will not alter the realities of any undocumented students who both live and attend a public institution in Connecticut. Senate Bill 147 would have.
Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.