access, choice, opportunity

High acheiving, low income, but ineligible for student aid

Some immigrant students discover dream of college is just a dream – The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — When she was in the eighth grade, the student — now a senior at Kent-Meridian High School — signed up for a state scholarship program the Legislature had just created.

The College Bound Scholarship program allows middle-school students from low-income households who maintain good grades, stay out of trouble and graduate from high school to receive a scholarship to a Washington college or university.

But there is a caveat that the Kent senior and possibly hundreds of others like her may have failed to take note of at the time. To obtain the scholarship they will also need to apply for federal financial aid. And to apply for that, they need a valid Social Security number, which as illegal immigrants they do not have.

With graduation looming, many are finding College Bound, as well as other public financial aid and many private scholarships, out of their reach.

Advocates for these students, already eligible for in-state tuition, want to make a push this legislative session to allow illegal-immigrant students to receive state financial aid — resurrecting the debate about what role, if any, states should play in helping undocumented immigrant students financially.

Even they acknowledge it’s a tough sell, given the economy.

But, says Ricardo Sanchez, director of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP), which partners with school districts and colleges to address educational issues for Latinos, “We’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in these kids and we have a wealth of talent among them.”

In Washington state, the majority of illegal-immigrant students are Latino and, as an ethnic group Latinos represent the fastest growing in the state.

“The worst thing we can do is leave these young people, especially scholars, with no hope of an education — or a future,” Sanchez said.

Yet even with a college degree, some of these students still face uncertainty because they cannot work legally after they graduate.

In recent weeks, these students have been making the rounds, lobbying lawmakers and urging school boards from Kent to Chelan to support such a measure.

Craig Keller, who heads Respect Washington, a group of citizens working to discourage illegal immigration in the state, said taxpayers should not be burdened with educating these children — especially during tough economic times.

To date, about one-third of College Bound applicants have been Latino and LEAP’s Sanchez estimates nearly half lack lawful immigration status.

Advocates and school counselors — even state officials — have pushed eligible students to apply for College Bound, regardless of their immigration status. They say they want them all prepared in the event there’s a policy change in Congress or Olympia that qualifies those in the country illegally for the scholarship.

Middle-school students can apply for the program using either their Social Security number or student ID number. Their families must qualify as low-income; they must pledge to be good citizens and not commit a felony. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and those in foster care may also apply.

LEAP, instrumental eight years ago in getting the Legislature to approve in-state tuition for illegal-immigrant students, is urging school boards to pass resolutions in support of legislation to allow these same students to qualify for state financial aid.

Three years ago a similar measure was introduced in the Legislature but received only a single hearing before it died.

Three states — California, New Mexico and Texas — now provide financial aid to illegal-immigrant students.

Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle, said she supports the same approach for Washington but acknowledges it’s unlikely such a measure would make it through the current Legislature: “Our budget situation makes that almost impossible right now.”

Some illegal-immigrant kids end up dropping out of high school and following their parents into the fields, often out of financial need and often, too, because they see no real future for themselves, he said.

In Lupe Villasenor’s home, dropping out was never an option.

She and her siblings were encouraged by their farmworker parents — who had no more than a grade-school education — to be the very best students they could.

College was always on the table — the possibility of it more real for the 17-year-old Lupe, a Chelan High School junior, than for her older brother who graduated from high school last year. While she was born in the U.S., he was brought here as a baby from Mexico illegally by their parents.

She will likely use the College Bound Scholarship to attend Washington State University next year, she said. She wants to become a lawyer.

Her brother had also hoped to enroll at WSU but ended up at a community college instead, because that’s all the family could afford.

He’s studying horticulture, she said, an educational foundation he believes he will be able to use in the orchards — even without legal status.

Read more: http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2012/jan/13/high-acheiving-low-income-but-ineligible-for/

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