After encouragement, immigrant students create last-minute surge in state scholarships applications

Fears about deportation had initially depressed interest in a state-funded scholarship program for undocumented California students, but a campaign to reassure applicants seems to have worked. Applications this year are up slightly compared to last year thanks to a late surge of submissions.

“We are thrilled, excited,” Lupita Cortez Alcalá, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, told EdSource.

Immigrants vying for a California Dream Act grant to help cover college costs in 2016 had only two months to apply, and the state received about 34,000 applications. This cycle, the application window was more than twice as long, but with one week to go before the March 2 deadline, only about 20,000 students had applied—a 40 percent drop.

That all changed over the last few days as lawmakers and top education officials practically begged qualified students to fill out an application.

“Please apply right away. The California Dream Act is the key to success in college and 21st century careers,” State Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said. “It would be a shame if fear or confusion keeps students from applying for financial aid that they have earned and they deserve.”

A group of Assembly Democrats last week also urged students to go for it after seeing the anemic submission stats. “I’m pleased that the federal actions haven’t stopped tens of thousands of California Dream Act students from pursuing their education,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount. “I’m grateful to all the advocates and organizations who reached out to these students to help make sure they applied.”

In the end, the state received 35,882 applications, almost 2,000 more than last year.

Students reportedly told their high school guidance counselors and college financial aid officers that they believe the personal information they report to the state will be shared with the federal government, placing them at greater risk of deportation.

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