Politics & Government

What the end of DACA means for college financial aid in Washington state

Daniela Arias is shown on the campus of the University of Washington Tacoma on Aug. 10. Arias was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1999 and was taken into the United States as a baby. She is one of about 18,000 young immigrants living without legal status in Washington who are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Daniela Arias is shown on the campus of the University of Washington Tacoma on Aug. 10. Arias was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1999 and was taken into the United States as a baby. She is one of about 18,000 young immigrants living without legal status in Washington who are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

The federal government’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields certain young immigrants from deportation, could cost some immigrant students money for college — even in left-leaning Washington.

State officials said President Donald Trump’s plans to phase out the program would be less of a financial problem for DACA recipients already enrolled in college or university.

But future students who otherwise could have qualified for state financial aid and in-state tuition after becoming DACA recipients? They might be out of luck.

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee slammed the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program in part because of how it would affect financial aid for DACA-eligible students, often known as “Dreamers.”

Since 2012, DACA has offered certain protections for young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, while allowing them to receive renewable two-year work permits. About 800,000 immigrants nationwide have taken part in the program, with an estimated 18,000 of those from Washington.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration would be rescinding DACA and would not accept new applications, while limiting renewals to those whose permits are expiring in the next six months. It’s unclear whether Congress will intervene to help Dreamers before their DACA protections run out.

“So we would have spent 12 years educating Dreamers, inspiring them to graduate from high school — then, because of something Donald Trump did out of racial animus, denying them the ability to finance their college education,” Inslee said Wednesday.

Right now, being a DACA recipient means that after living in Washington for a year you can become eligible for a variety of state scholarships, as well as in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities, said Rachelle Sharpe, deputy executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council.

If DACA goes away, most of the state’s scholarships and financial-aid programs would no longer be available to students who are living in the country without legal permission, she said.

Those immigrant students also would have to meet more stringent residency requirements to qualify for in-state tuition, she said. Instead of being considered Washington residents after living here for a year, it would take them three years of continuous residency — along with graduating from a Washington high school — to qualify, she said.

“Without DACA, students do not have the legal status to allow them to establish their residency in the state,” Sharpe said.

That’s a big hit, since out-of-state tuition is much more expensive than tuition for Washington residents. This fall, quarterly tuition and fees at the University of Washington cost $3,574 for a full-time resident student, compared to $11,762 for a nonresident student.

Students who lack legal status would remain eligible for the state’s largest financial aid program, the State Need Grant, thanks to a law the Legislature approved in 2014.

But, as with establishing eligibility for in-state tuition, it would take them three years of living in Washington to qualify for that program, as opposed to the one year required of DACA recipients.

College students who already have received DACA status wouldn’t lose their eligibility for in-state tuition and most state financial aid once the federal program ends, since they have already established Washington residency, Sharpe said.

Yet state officials are worried about some scholarships that have already been promised to students who will no longer be eligible for them when DACA goes away.

That is likely a problem with the state’s College Bound Scholarship, which students sign up for in middle school and covers their tuition costs when they attend college.

More than 500 college students who also were DACA recipients received the College Bound Scholarship in the 2016-2017 school year, Sharpe said. Those students only were eligible for the program due to their DACA status, she said.

Without a change in state law — or an act of Congress to extend the DACA program — future students in a similar position won’t be able to receive that scholarship, she said.

State Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island and the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said he wants to ensure students still could qualify for the College Bound Scholarship — even if the DACA program ends. He said he will renew his efforts to pass legislation to make that happen, House Bill 1488, when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“The threatened repeal of DACA will absolutely affect the financial aid available to Washington students, which is one reason we are trying to protect against that,” said Hansen, the bill’s prime sponsor. “My bill makes clear that undocumented students that meet all the requirements will be eligible for College Bound, even if DACA goes away.”

State Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor and the vice chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said she thinks state lawmakers will take a closer look next year at Hansen’s proposal, and other issues surrounding financial aid for students who are living in the country without legal residency status.

Bailey was the prime sponsor of the Real Hope Act, the 2014 bill that opened up the State Need Grant to students who were brought to the country illegally at a young age.

“My first glance at this is I want to make sure that we’re going to keep those students having access to the Real Hope Act — and I think that any of the other programs that are out there, we are going to have a look at that,” Bailey said.

About 1,800 students who weren’t legal U.S. residents received the State Need Grant in the 2016-17 school year, with 72 percent of those students reporting they were DACA recipients, state officials said.

Kamau Chege, a DACA recipient who came to the United States from Kenya when he was 6, said protecting state financial aid for students like him is especially important because they are ineligible for federal scholarships and loans. Chege, a graduate of Tacoma’s Stadium High School, is beginning his senior year at Whitworth University in Spokane.

In the long run, Chege said what is truly needed is for Congress to pass legislation that ensures DACA recipients like him can continue to stay in the country and work.

Without the ability to renew their work permits, Chege said students like him will face many difficulties after they graduate — including trouble paying back student loans.

“I have a scholarship, and even I had to take out some loans,” Chege said. “There are so many ways people are going to be affected.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1