AB540: Normalize the California Dream Experience

California Dream students, young immigrants who entered the country without authorization before the age of 16, face an extremely unique situation when it comes to higher education. Assembly Bill 540 (AB540) exempts certain Dreamer students from paying nonresident tuition (higher than resident tuition) and allows them to apply for different types of California Dream Act financial aid. As of Feb 9, 2016, the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) had received more than 46,700 California Dream Act applications.

The numbers are encouraging for the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, a group “committed to serving all students who can benefit from a post-secondary education, without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, immigration status, age, gender, language, socio-economic status, gender identity or expression, medical condition or disability.”

But there is work to be done to normalize the Dreamer process to increase feelings of security, of belonging, and of true acceptance.

What IS AB540?

Assembly Bill 540 (AB540) is a California state law allowing students who meet select requirements to pay in-state tuition fees at any UC, CSU, or California community college. To apply for AB540, a student must meet the following criteria:

  • Attended a California high school for three years AND,
  • Graduated from a California high school or attained the equivalent of a high school diploma AND,
  • Registered or be currently enrolled at an accredited institution of public higher education AND,
  • Sign a statement (Affidavit) with the college or university AND,
  • Not hold a valid non-immigrant visa, such as visas F, J, H, and L.

Verification of information to prove AB540 eligibility takes time and effort—and falls to Financial Aid Offices at California’s colleges and universities. If work is done to improve the application and document collection process, both the student experience and staff workload can drastically improve.

ABCs of Student Finance

At CampusLogic, our purpose is to help schools change lives—the impact higher education can have on the life of a Dreamer is monumental. To drive to that purpose, we focus on helping you increase accessibility to education, reduce student borrowing, and drive down administration costs. It’s what we call the ABCs of Student Finance: Accessibility, Borrowing, and Cost.

AB540 Improves Accessibility for California Dreamers

Dreamers are a growing population within California, and they deserve the opportunity to attend school. Regardless of background, how to fund one’s education is a big concern for many students—perhaps the biggest. Education is the single largest purchase students will make, to date, in their lives.

In-state tuition and fees, with room and board, at a public four-year higher education institution runs in excess of $20,000 per year according to the CollegeBoard’s latest data. That’s an estimated $80,000, before inflation, for a bachelor’s degree.

Sound scary? Now, look at it through the lens with which many Dream students view the world. Dream students face fears of uncertain futures—including removal from the country. They often feel singled out as well. If you lived under the constant fear of deportation, would you sign up for $20,000 a year in debt? Would going through a totally separate process for verification reinforce feelings of isolation?

To reduce fear, we need to normalize the document-collection process for Federal Aid and Dream Act students. When an institution is forced to keep two distinct processes for these student populations it can cause uncertainty and extra work for FinAid offices.

AB540 Reduces Borrowing for California Dreamers

AB540 can help undocumented students attend California schools at in-state rates, rather than paying higher out-of-state tuition. Nationally, the average difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition and fees, along with room and board, exceeds $15,200 per year. If a California Dream student graduates in four years, paying in-state tuition alone can save them more than $61,000—and that’s before any aid has been applied.

Additionally, if approved for AB540, Dream Act students become eligible for certain Cal Grant and Community College Fee Waiver programs. All are “free money” that the student does not need to repay. Combining the reduced cost for in-state tuition with aid programs available to Dreamers and AB540 empowers a significant reduction in potential student borrowing.

Reducing debt for students is a good thing. As a nation, we currently hold  $1.3 trillion in student debt. Everything and anything that can be done needs to be done to curb this rising figure. Reducing borrowing for Dream students does just that.

Normalize AB540 Process, Reduce Costs

Colleges continually strive to improve efficiencies and standardize processes. AB540 puts increased demands on financial aid staff in terms of document collection, financial literacy, and potential student outreach. Couple this with decreasing budgets, and it’s clear that California institutions are searching for ways to complete more work with less people.

Greater efficiencies lead to reduced processing time and cost for institutions. When processing FAFSA applications through the CampusLogic student financial aid engagement platform, California Community Colleges have seen a reduction in verification times of 89% and 95%, respectively. These results scream efficiency for both students and staff. Imagine if the same held true for the processing of Dream Student applications through the aid process? It does.

Meet Dreamer’s Unique Needs Today, With CampusLogic

The CampusLogic platform accommodates the unique needs of AB540 students. Thanks to recent enhancements, Cal ISIRs can be loaded into our platform where a dynamic custom task list will be generated for each Dream student. CampusLogic enables students to complete digital forms, upload them via mobile upload, and provides for electronic signature collection from both students and parents. These are the same features available to a Federal Aid applicant through CampusLogic.

Schools have reported as much as a 63% increase in the number of students who complete the verification process. It’s fair to assume the same would occur for Dream student completion rates. For the 2016-17 school year as of February 9, 2017, of the 9,478 students offered Dream Act Cal Grants only 5,161 are reported to have been paid to students.

If completion rates held true, use of technology and a consistent engagement platform could result in an additional 3,251 students who get paid under this program. These numbers will likely grow in the coming years. In a recent article in the LA Times, it is estimated that the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has approved applications nationally from nearly 742,000 people — 214,000 of them live in California, the most of any state.”

Normalize the AB540 Experience

AB540 is a unique situation, and Dreamers are a unique student population. The impact higher education can have on the life of a Dreamer needs to be front and center as we work together to normalize the Dreamer process. The benefits—improved feelings of security and belonging, boosted completion rates, reduced student debt, and improved staff efficiency—are easy to see.

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About the Author

Amy Glynn, VP Student Financial Success

Amy Glynn joined CampusLogic in 2013, focused on helping colleges and universities deliver student financial success through automation, advising, and analytics. Ever-focused on improving staff efficiency and the student experience, Amy has spent more than a decade optimizing the financial aid process while ensuring institutions maintained compliance with Federal Title IV regulations. A sought-after national-stage speaker, Amy champions ideas that can help turn the tide for the nearly 3 million students who drop out of higher education every year for reasons related to finances. Student financial success has become a strategic imperative for all higher education institutions and Amy often lends her voice to policy discussions focused on improving accessibility, driving informed borrowing, and increasing completion. Amy earned her Master of Science in Higher Education from Walden University.

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