Colleges urge undocumented students to seek aid

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 15, 2013 

BEA AHBECK CASSON/bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com Students on campus during the first day of school at Merced College in Merced Monday. (1-14-13)

BEA AHBECK

Undocumented college students in the Merced area are being urged to come forward to seek financial aid for which they could be eligible under the state's Dream Act.

This year, undocumented students became eligible for state financial aid, such as the Community College Fee Waiver and Cal Grants, said Anne Newins, vice president of student personnel at Merced College.

"Now they will be able to get benefits that they weren't eligible for before," she said.

California's Dream Act was signed into law in the fall of 2011 by Gov. Jerry Brown. The second part of the act, Assembly Bill 131, took effect Jan. 1, making undocumented students eligible to receive some state funding.

The first part, Assembly Bill 130, took effect at the start of last year. It allowed undocumented students to be eligible for donor-based scholarships from a college or university.

Students shouldn't be afraid to fill out Dream Act applications, which are similar to the standard Free Application for Student Aid, Merced College officials said.

Sharon Reinhardt, director of financial aid at the college, said officials have informed financial aid counselors of the changes and sent application information to students identified as eligible.

However, Reinhardt said, the college's online application system has been down for the past several days because state officials are updating it. The online application should be available in a few days, she said Monday.

The college has given out 50 fee waivers, Reinhardt said, but it's difficult to know how many more students will come forward.

The college has a couple of staff members who are available to help students, on a limited basis, with their Dream Act application in the FAFSA Lab on campus, Reinhardt said.

Nora Martinez, a Merced College financial aid adviser, is one of those helping Dream Act students. Others interested in pursuing financial aid eligibility can contact her or email questions to financialaid@mccd. edu.

UC Merced officials are working to encourage undocumented students to apply for the financial assistance they are eligible to receive.

Diana Ralls, director of financial aid and scholarships at UC Merced, said officials reach out to students who they believe may qualify under the state's Dream Act, but have not submitted an aid application.

"We send them an email letting them know that they may be eligible and encourage them to submit an application for financial consideration," she said in an email.

Officials sent emails to students this month, and in January and September of last year, she said.

"We offer all students assistance with filling out forms, understanding their options and finding resources," she said in the email. "Undocumented students are included in that offer of assistance as well."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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