Immigrant students say they can’t seek free college program
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Immigrant students without legal status in the U.S. voiced dismay that they are being left out of the state’s plans to enact a free community college program in Connecticut.
By requiring participants in the Pledge to Advance Connecticut program to specifically fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form, those students will not be able to apply, said Lucas Codognolla, executive director of the group CT Students for a Dream, on Monday.
“By excluding undocumented students from the debt-free community college program, Connecticut has taken a step backwards and has placed a barrier for undocumented students, leaving them at an even bigger disadvantage than their peers,” Codognolla said, in a written statement.
He noted how Connecticut created a new form in 2018 that allowed these immigrant students to prove financial need and be eligible for institutional aid at the state universities and colleges.
Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian, noted the General Assembly required the FAFSA form when it drafted legislation creating the Pledge to Advance Connecticut, or PACT program.
“President Ojakian has consistently advocated for equal opportunity for undocumented students, and he agrees that undocumented students should be able to access the PACT program,” Appleby said. “However, the enabling legislation behind PACT requires recipients to fill out the FAFSA, so an expansion of eligibility to undocumented students would require a legislative change. As we work with our legislative partners to improve the law, we will continue to advocate for this commonsense change.”
The new regular legislative session opens in February.
CT Students for a Dream wants the program changed so students to use either the FAFSA or the state’s Aid Application for CT Undocumented Students.
PACT is considered a “last-dollar scholarship” program that makes the state’s 12 community colleges tuition-free and fee-free for students who meet certain criteria. PACT awards will be made after all other sources of federal, state and institutional financial aid grants are expended.
The program will begin with students who are entering the fall 2020 semester and beyond.
To qualify, students must be a Connecticut high school graduate; be a full-time student attending college for the first time; complete the free federal application for financial aid; and accept all awards and remain in good academic standing.
Maria Correira, a student at Naugatuck Valley Community College, said she was “heartbroken” to learn students like her were left out of the PACT program.
“Many undocumented students like me rely on the education provided by community colleges in our state,” she said, adding how she comes from a low-income family and works full time to pay for tuition. “This would have been desperately needed relief that would have lifted a massive weight from my shoulders and other undocumented students like me.”