Daring to dream for financial aid

Beginning Tuesday, undocumented students can apply for Washington state financial aid because of a component of The Real Hope Act.

Because the bill was signed into action after the usual period to apply for financial aid passed, this year there will be a one-time window for undocumented students to apply for aid beginning April 1, said Marcela Pattinson, the educational outreach coordinate for the Office of Access, Equity and Achievement.

The Real Hope Act, or State Bill 6523, will allow undocumented students who fit a series of criteria to apply for financial aid without changing their legal status.

“A lot of students have the talent and desire to go to an in-state college, and this is the perfect opportunity,” said Lucila Loera, assistant vice-president in the office for access, equity, and achievement.

Washington is one of four states to offer financial aid to undocumented students, including New Mexico, Texas, and California.

“Washington state I think has been a leader with this issue, which is a testament to recognizing that these students are in need,” Loera said. “I think it will open the door and will provide more opportunities for those in need, providing more access to go to college.”

Pattinson said this bill is built on the already-implemented House Bill 1079, in which undocumented students can qualify for in-state tuition.

If students meet the qualifications to become eligible for HB1079, which include living in Washington for at least three years prior to receiving a high school diploma or GED diploma and signing an affidavit stating they will apply for U.S. residency as soon as possible, then they are also eligible for the Real Hope Act.

Pattinson said many of the students this act affects are some of the most resilient she has seen. They are continuously giving back to the community, she said.

“Marcella has always told me that they are just super motivated students, like beyond the normal student because they know how much an education means and how hard it is for them to achieve,” said Stephen Nakata, director of communications and marketing in the Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment.

Pattinson said regardless of the difficulties these students have, both socially and financially, they continue to stand up again, and the increased legislation continues to help them.

“One of the obstacles for many of these students is the lack of options,” Loera said. “This provides the opportunity that they’ve never had before.”

Pattinson said while the initial grant is a positive start, more money is going to have to be attached to that bill because of the higher number of students applying for aid.

“Everyone is going to have a little piece of that pie,” Pattinson said.

Pattinson said while the opportunity to apply for aid is continuing to open doors for students without documentation, they are still competing with all of the other students in the state for that aid, and if they do receive it, there is still the question of how much.

“Yes it’s a help because before they have to come up with the whole thing, but it’s still a challenge, and it’s still hard to have to come up with tuition out of pocket,” Pattinson said.

She said undocumented students cannot apply for loans, for credit, or work study, which makes the burden of paying for college more difficult than most students can imagine.

“I think it’s important to get a really realistic picture that they’re not getting the tuition waived, that they have to come up with the rest,” Pattinson said.

Pattinson said in addition to paying tuition out of pocket, many undocumented students and their families have already been paying the taxes that contribute to the state’s financial aid.

“Many people pay them for years and years knowing they will never get them back,” Pattinson said. “This is the first time that those people will see that they invest, and they can have access to that.”

Pattinson said while these students are seeing increasing opportunities, more can be done to help them achieve their education.

“In terms of making it easier for students, really we need more legislation that continues to even the playing field,” Nakata said.