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Governor Helps Students Realize Dream of College

By Edwin Folven, 7/28/2011

Brown Signs AB 130, Allowing Undocumented Students to Apply for Financial Aid

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More than 100 students from local schools who gathered at Los Angeles City College Monday let out a resounding cheer as Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act, a bill that will allow undocumented residents to apply for private grants that can help pay for college tuition.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act on the back of its author, Assemblymember Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles). (photo by Edwin Folven)

Brown joined the bill’s author, State Assemblymember Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), to sign AB 130 into law. The legislation will allow undocumented students to apply for $88 million in privately-funded scholarships offered at the University of California, California State University, and community college systems.

“California, unlike many places, is not losing population. In fact, it is growing, so it is absolutely crucial that we invest in every child who lives in this state,” Brown said. “Our future is uncertain if we neglect these children, but it is absolutely abundant if we invest in them. It is critical that we take this first step.”

While AB 130 enables undocumented students to apply for private scholarships provided by foundations, organizations and individuals, it does not enable them to apply for federal and state financial aid, such a Cal Grants. A companion bill authored by Cedillo, AB 131, would open government-based financial aid programs to undocumented students as part of the overall California Dream Act. That bill is currently being considered in the state assembly.

Cedillo said education for everyone has been important to him since he was a child, and he recounted how his mother told him years ago that “education is for life.” Cedillo also recounted how he knew at an early age that he wanted to go to college, which is why he authored AB 130 and AB 131 to allow more young people to attain higher education.

“This will help so many other men and women realize their dreams,” Cedillo said. “Education is for life, but your legal status isn’t. We hope and pray for change to federal immigration law, and leadership from the White House, but this is a step towards ensuring the future of our young people. This is going to be one of those days that is a milestone.”

There are no figures available as to how many undocumented students will be affected by the new legislation, but it will be significant, said Dr. Jamillah Moore, president of Los Angeles Community College.

“I believe this bill will be very beneficial for students looking to come to LACC because many of our students receive some type of financial assistance, around forty-two to forty-three percent,” Moore said. “It will help them, once they are here, to determine what types of financial aid is available. I believe more students will come to the campus now that they know there will be assistance available.”

Moore said there are currently 19,000 students at Los Angeles City College. The amount of financial assistance available to each individual will vary, but it may average around $1,000 per student. Last year, the community college system awarded more than 18,500 scholarships from its private grant funding pool, while the University of California and California State University systems had approximately $46 million each in funding available for private scholarships.

For Shirley Cantoral, a student at Fullerton College, Brown’s signing of AB 130 offers hope for her future, and that of many others. Cantoral said she came to the United States with her family from Guatemala 14 years ago to escape “political strife”, and after her visa expired, she stayed because it has become her home. As she continues to work through the process of gaining citizenship, she said she is pursuing her dream of studying biochemistry.

“Scholarships will be the only way I will be able to pay for college,” Cantoral said. “AB 130 will help us, and we will keep pushing for AB 131. People here are studying to become doctors and lawyers and scientists, which are positions that will help the country’s future. This means a lot in helping us to fulfill our dreams.”

A handful of students from Fairfax High School were present at the bill’s signing as a show of support for their friends.

Karla Ballesteros, a junior at Fairfax High, added that AB 130 is a huge step towards ensuring that everyone can attain a higher education. Although Ballesteros is a resident, she said several of her friends are undocumented, and are struggling to attend college.

“It does open more opportunities to go to college, instead of just getting a trade job,” Ballesteros said.

Johanna Mendoza, a junior at Fairfax High, added that she was elated about the legislation.

“This is so surreal. I am shocked it finally happened,” Mendoza said. “We waited a long time for this, and it will mean so much for all students because it will open the door for college.”

 

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