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NYC gives first glimpse of how many undocumented students could apply for tuition help

October 11, 2019 Reema Amin, Chalkbeat NY
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“NYC gives first glimpse of how many undocumented students could apply for tuition help” was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here.

About 47,000 city residents could apply for college financial assistance under a new law designed to help undocumented or temporarily legal immigrant New Yorkers, according to a new city report released Thursday.

Those New Yorkers — an estimate based in part on 2017 Census data — could benefit from the Jose Peralta DREAM Act, which for the first time allows certain New York high school graduates without permanent or legal immigration status to apply for tuition assistance at in-state colleges. Students who spent at least two years at a New York high school and earned a diploma can apply — up to five years after graduation for undergraduate study, and up to 10 years for graduate school. Those who earned a high school equivalency diploma are also eligible.

After years of resistance, the law was one of the first passed during this year’s legislative session, backed heavily by New York’s new Democratic majority.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The numbers released by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, or MOIA, are a first look using this methodology at how many New York City residents could be eligible for help under this law. But it’s still unclear how many will actually apply. (MOIA’s new fact sheet can be viewed here.)

When this law was passed, lawmakers estimated that 4,500 undocumented students across the state graduate from high school each year and funded the DREAM Act with $27 million. The demand could be high. The same week the application went live in July, the Higher Education Services Corporation—which oversees the application—said more than 1,000 applications had been started or submitted from across the state. It’s not known how many New York City residents have applied since then. HESC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Students have reported some issues with the application. Immigration advocates have lobbied HESC for clearer wording and are pushing for outreach to communities that might be hesitant to apply because of their immigration status.

To develop its report, MOIA and the Office of Economic Opportunity used 2017 Census data from the American Community Survey to model how many undocumented New Yorkers are eligible to apply based on their educational background — from earning traditional high school diplomas to having some college credit but no degree. They cautioned that this was a “point in time analysis,” so they can’t model where these residents earned their degrees, when exactly they received them, and whether they’ll attend state colleges.

Forty-two percent of those who could be eligible are from low-income families, the new report said. A degree could make a big difference for this group. Based on the 2017 Census data, MOIA found that the average earned income of a New York City worker with a bachelor’s degree is almost $61,000 — almost $27,000 more than someone who earns an associate’s degree.

“We certainly want folks who are eligible to be aware of the eligibility but also to appreciate and understand that yielding a bachelor’s degree can shift your economic income dramatically,” said MOIA Commissioner Bitta Mostofi. “It’s really critical in terms of upward mobility to pursue higher education and [to] know the financial impediment can now be removed.”

But spreading the word about the law to those who might be eligible has continued to be an uphill battle and has been “terrible” on the part of state agencies that oversee the application, said Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, a Queens lawmaker and former DREAMer, the term for children brought to the United States by undocumented immigrants. Even before confusion around the application, Cruz said she wasn’t notified that HESC had made the application live until she saw a constituent post about it on Facebook.

“If I am an elected official and finding out that way, how are our DREAMers finding out about it?” Cruz said.

She acknowledged that funding for outreach is lacking, which can make it a tough task. But it also places a larger burden on community organizations, she said, who are juggling other programs with tight funding. For Cruz, additional financial assistance could have helped her avoid burning out during college, when she said she worked two part-time jobs on top of taking classes.

“This is the kind of program that literally for many young DREAMers is the difference between life and death,” Cruz said.

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