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June 23, 2014
Viewpoints: 'Dreamers,' those brought illegally to U.S., deserve same loans as other students

Lara_undocumented_students.JPG(June 23 - By Janet Napolitano, Timothy White and Ricardo Lara, Special to The Bee)

Thousands of bright and motivated California high school graduates dream of attending our state's public universities, but unlike their peers, these students are barred from borrowing federal dollars to realize that dream.

These are students who, through no fault of their own, were brought unlawfully to the United States by their parents and then, through their hard work, gained admittance to a University of California or California State University campus. These students are what have become known as "dreamers."

We write now to help ensure that the dreams of these students do not go unrealized, and that California's goal of creating an educated workforce stays on track.

Senate Bill 1210 - the California Dream Loan Program - would give these dreamers the same opportunities as their fellow students to finance their education.

The bill is set for a hearing today before the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the bill would provide a pool of loan funds from the state, UC and CSU to close the financial aid gap for undocumented students who have graduated from a California high school after attending for at least three years.

Today, these students are eligible for state, university and private aid, but remain ineligible for federal loans. As a result, many face a gap in their financial aid packages, often between $3,000 and $6,000 a year, creating a significant hardship in attaining a UC or CSU degree.

SB 1210 would place them on a more equal footing with other financially needy students.

This is about leveling the financial aid playing field, not about providing benefits to one group that are not already available to others. This, in other words, is about fairness and common sense.

Under SB 1210, loan limits, interest rates and eligibility requirements would be no more favorable than those available to other students through federal loan programs.

An added benefit is that the California Dream Loan Program has the potential to become self-supporting. The UC and CSU share of the funding would increase over time. Down the road, income from loan repayments would offset the state's costs. The universities could use the repayments to fund new loans as needed.

Undocumented students are more likely to come from low-income families. They often are the first in their families to attend college. Through their hard work and perseverance, these students have earned the opportunity to attend our public universities. Their accomplishments should not be disregarded, nor their future jeopardized, because of their legal status. It does a disservice to them and deprives us of what they can contribute to the future well-being of our state and nation.

These students have worked hard to achieve their dream of a university education. We should work just as hard to ensure they have every chance to succeed, including providing them access to the same resources as their campus peers.

Janet Napolitano is president of the University of California system. Timothy White is chancellor of the California State University system. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat, represents the 33rd District in the state Senate.