Though USC is a private institution, transfer students with Cal Grants will be affected if the second part of California’s DREAM Act is passed.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first part of the act, AB 130, in late July, allowing undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition to receive scholarships from non-state funds. If he signs AB 131, the second part of the act, the legislation will specifically grant undocumented students the opportunity to receive aid from the state, such as Cal Grants.
USC could be affected through those transfer students from California state schools with Cal Grants because the Cal Grants would be applicable at USC.
In 2010, 72 percent of transfer students at USC came from a University of California, California State University or California community college school, according to the university.
“You can take a Cal Grant anywhere — that’s an open issue that we need to work out with the [California] Student Aid Commission that would address all of these issues,” said Veronica Villalobos-Cruz, USC executive director of state government relations. “They would need to create a whole separate application for these students since they cannot fill out the FAFSA, so they have to find a whole new financial process to figure out the financial needs of this story and the appropriate criteria.”
Villalobos-Cruz said USC is taking a neutral stance toward the potential signing of the second half of the California DREAM Act this week, as the bill applies to funding from state institutions and does not directly affect private schools.
A specific system would have to be put in place to appropriately address transfer students’ specific financial situations, Villalobos-Cruz said.
AB 540 alters the law so undocumented students can receive Cal Grants if they meet specific requirements. They must attend a California high school for three or more academic years, graduate from a California high school or attain a GED and attend an accredited public college in the state.
“It’s targeted toward AB 540 students and it only defines the public universities, and in-state and out-of-state tuition,” Villalobos-Cruz said.
According to the website for the 2012 Common Application, which USC began using this year, college applicants must indicate their status as a U.S. or non-U.S. citizen, but providing a Social Security number is “required for U.S. citizens and Permanent Residents applying for financial aid via FAFSA.”
Undocumented students could be attending USC, but they would not be able to officially apply for federal aid without providing a social security number.
“These undocumented students are eligible for merit awards, so they’re getting outside sources of help,” said Tom McWhorter, executive director of USC financial aid. “It’s not that we don’t have undocumented students, but they don’t have a social security number, so they can’t fill out a FAFSA. That’s why they’re so limited.”
Though the DREAM Act might not affect USC directly, Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, pointed out that the DREAM Act raises compelling arguments.
“The philosophical argument is whether you should provide services and support for someone who’s not in the country legally, or whether that person should be penalized,” Schnur said. “But the practical argument is even more stark. These young people graduated from high school. Do you want to invest further in order to increase the chances that they become productive taxpayers, as opposed to recipients of social services?”
Labor demographics also come into play, according to Dowell Myers, director of the Population Dynamics Research Group and a demography and urban planning professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development. The aging baby boomer generation will leave behind many spots that need to be filled by qualified, college-educated candidates.
“The DREAM Act has the potential to increase the number of students going to college — that’s a good thing,” Myers said. “I know that because the economy is evolving; they need more workers that have a college degree, and the way we’re going now, we’re going to have a shortage of a million workers in California in the next 10 to 20 years. So we really need a lot more people going to college.”
Correction: The following quotation was originally attributed to Tom McWhorter, executive director of USC financial aid. The quote is actually from Veronica Villalobos-Cruz, USC executive director of state government relations.
“You can take a Cal Grant anywhere — that’s an open issue that we need to work out with the [California] Student Aid Commission that would address all of these issues. They would need to create a whole separate application for these students since they cannot fill out the FAFSA, so they have to find a whole new financial process to figure out the financial needs of this story and the appropriate criteria”