TCLA's School Accountability Report Card Series: Features: 5

Undocumented Students Struggle

with High Cost of Education:

A Look at AB 540

High school seniors across California have recently sent in their letters of intent to register at various state colleges and universities. Yet, some students are still trying to find the financial support to attend. Many of these students have earned the highest academic honors that their schools offer. Yet, because they lack citizenship status, they are now not eligible for state or federal financial aid. In 2001, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 540, which allows undocumented students who have attended a California high school for three or more years to qualify for in-state tuition. This bill is a step in the right direction, but even the cost of in-state tuition is out of reach for working class families. Undocumented students wishing to fulfill their career goals and dreams face disheartening prospects. State and federal financial aid is now not available for these students and the only resources available for them are private scholarships. This is oftentimes an obstacle that leads them to reconfiguring college plans or, unfortunately, leaving school altogether.

Photo: No on AB 540, 1/02

Currently, there are two federal bills under consideration, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the Student Adjustment Act, would provide the necessary support for many undocumented students. The bills would offer youth who have lived here in the United States for at least five years interim legal status while they are enrolled in higher education. This change would make them eligible for in-state tuition and federal financial assistance. For this piece, TCLA speaks to students, community members, and attorneys about their involvement with resident classification in California. Click on the links below to read what parents and students have to say:

Wise Up Miguel Cruz, Peer organizer of Wise-Up at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
"Our purpose is to open the doors to education to those who have the capacity and will to continue their education in order to be productive members of society."

Public Advocates Liz Guillen, Attorney at Public Advocates
"There needs to some mechanism that will allow private money to go to these students without tying it up in the process of public institutions."
PDF Undocumented Immigrant Students: A Very Brief Overview of Access to Higher Education In California
(91 K, 2 pp.)

Photo: Brandon Guzman Brandon Guzman, Graduating senior at UCLA
"The main question is 'Why are you here?' We are not here to take over, to take up space or live off the government. We are here to live our dreams and enrich society. Go out there and fight the fight."

Photo: Alfred HerreraAlfred Herrera, Director for UCLA’s Center for Community College Partnerships
"Prior to AB 540, all students admitted to UCLA, freshmen or transfer, were admitted and if they were undocumented, they were charged out-of-state tuition. As a result, the number of students coming here was extremely small—a handful if any."

Photo: Andrea Ramos Andrea Ramos, Staff attorney with the Children's Rights Project at Public Counsel
"At first, students were hesitant to come forward because they were scared to reveal their status and felt shameful of their situation. Through my work at one of the high schools, three students that I was working with said that they would come forward and tell their story to help pass the bill."

Student Statement
I am the Student Body President at my high school and come from a family of eight. My hope is to be the first in my family to graduate from college. My dad is a construction worker and my mom is a homemaker. Our annual income is less than $10,000, and this presents the biggest obstacle for me to realize my dream. My three older sisters faced the same situation, and they were unable to attend a university. Seeing my dad working extremely hard to bring money to the house and seeing my sisters being depressed, has made me a stronger person. I have worked so hard in high school and sacrificed myself more than any other student. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. last semester to arrive at school at 6:30 for band practice, staying after school for Calculus tutoring, as Student Body President going to meetings held at school and off campus, doing community service for the California Scholarship Federation, and completing my 12th grade fall semester with a 4.2 grade point average, has made me an even more responsible young man. My current academic schedule is AP Calculus BC, AP English Literature, Economics, Student Council, AP Chemistry and Peer Counseling. I applied to 10 colleges and was admitted to all—UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, Cal Poly Pomona, Santa Clara University, and UCLA. UCLA has become my number one choice as it has been since second grade. The problem that I have is that I’m not eligible to receive financial aid, school loans, or any type of grants from the government because I am undocumented. I came to this country thirteen years ago, and I have been to every immigration office trying to find a solution but there is no way that I can apply for citizenship. At this moment, I’m working at at a local restaurant and searching for scholarships, since it’s my only resource to obtain money for college.

--Los Angeles Student, Senior

Photo: No on AB 540, 1/02
Students Rallying For AB 540 at UCLA, January 2002

Link Resources

PDF General Information: California Nonresident Tuition Exemption (101 K, pp.)

PDF California Nonresident Tuition Exemption Request (123 K, 1 pp.)

PDF AB 540 Community College Guidelines (155 K, 13 pp.)

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund:
AB-540—Higher education is now more affordable for California’s immigrant students

Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

AB 540 UC Tuition Exemption Questions and Answers

Information regarding AB 540 and private scholarships in Spanish

PDF UCLA Latino Alumni Scholarship (250 K, 5 pp.)

PDF Undocumented Immigrant Students: A Very Brief Overview of Access to Higher Education In California
(91 K, 2 pp.)

Link News on the Web

The dream of education

Rally backs effort to help immigrant students,1,4877321.story

Inician semana de acción por los estudiantes inmigrantes: Buscan pasar ley que rebaje colegiaturas sin papeles

States debate in-state tuition for undocumented students

Student immigration status at issue in recent incidents

Undocumented grads to get tuition breaks from California Institutions

La Universidad de California Pone en Marcha la Ley AB 540

Immigrant kids may get a boost: Bills would give undocumented students a shot at citizenship

Get Acrobat Reader
Algunos de estos documentos pueden requerir el programa de computadora Acrobat Reader. Oprima aquí para obtenerlo gratis.


Talk Back What do you think of this TCLA feature article? Click on the Talk Back icon to send TCLA your comments!