LOS ANGELES – A significant decrease has occurred in applications for college financial aid by California students who are in the country illegally after being brought to the U.S. as young children, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
College counselors say the decline reflects increasing distrust of government among immigrant families, as well as uncertainty over the status of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — better known as DACA, the newspaper said.
“The headlines about immigration make people feel like they’re really in the spotlight. Kids are more afraid for their families than they are for themselves,” said Jane Slater, a teacher at Sequoia High School in Redwood City who advises a club for students who are in the country illegally.
With the March 1 deadline approaching, 19,141 students had applied for aid under the California Dream Act as of Monday, a number that’s just over half of last year’s total.
Available aid for qualifying students includes private scholarships funded through public universities, state-administered financial aid, university grants, community college fee waivers and Cal Grants.
This year’s decline follows a dip that occurred last year until state officials launched a campaign and ended up with a total of 36,127 applications. Advocacy this year includes a public service announcement by rapper DJ Khaled.
Yohana Ramirez, an 18-year-old Sequoia High student, was 3 when her family moved to the U.S. from Mexico. She wants to go to the University of California, Merced, and become a surgeon.
“Growing up, I knew I wasn’t born here, but I didn’t know what it means,” she told the Times. “I always assumed it was just a different point of origin — but I didn’t think it would impact me in school.”
Learning that DACA was in jeopardy scared her, she said.
“I was panicking — about my family getting deported, with or without me. I’m still kind of scared,” she said. “I’m just trying to keep my head up and keep pushing forward with my dreams, goals and aspirations.”
An additional factor in the applications decline may be the workload of California’s student counselors. The Times cited a report this month by the National Association for College Admission Counseling that found a ratio of 760 students for every counselor in the 2014-15 school year.
Slater, the Sequoia High teacher, said she makes sure all eligible seniors apply.
David Marks, a counselor at Sacramento Charter High School, said counselors don’t have a lot of time but simply informing students about the aid may not be sufficient.
“It takes a lot of effort to double-check,” he said.