From multiple deadlines to a multitude of forms, going through the financial aid process can be daunting for any student. For students who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), sometimes spoken about in tandem with the DREAM Act, it can be even more challenging.
DACA is a government initiative that was launched by President Barack Obama in 2012 that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children under the age of 16 before 2007 (often called “DREAMers”) to remain in the United States for a period of two years without fear of deportation.
It’s the most current of a number of pathway to citizenship proposals that have come before Congress since the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) was first introduced in 2001, but never passed.
And although DACA (the Obama-era version of the DREAM Act) doesn’t offer a way to gain permanent legal status, it does allow qualifying DREAMers to become eligible for employment.
Who Are The DREAMers?
In late 2019, around 675,000 active DACA recipients were living in the United States. The majority of recipients came to the US from Mexico and live in California, although immigrants from hundreds of other countries around the world also live in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and US territories.
According to the Center for American Progress, around 250,000 US-born children have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient. As a population, DREAMers pay a collective $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes each year.
Advocates say the program is having a positive effect on the DREAMers, with data showing that more than 90% of DACA recipients were employed, with 54% reporting that it was their first job and 68% reporting an increase in pay.
DACA in the News
In September 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the DACA program in line with its larger immigration policy, sparking political and legal battles that involved lawsuits in several states and even making its way to the US Supreme Court.
The program has been contentious since its inception, and the politics are complicated, to be sure. As of now the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) must continue to accept DACA renewals, but are not accepting new applications.
Around 232,000 DACA permits were set to expire between Oct. 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, when the Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not to continue DACA is expected. At the same time, DACA renewal fees increased 55% from $495 to $765.
But while DACA’s future remains in limbo, deadlines for financial aid, scholarships, and other tuition assistance are fast approaching. What does this mean for DACA financial aid?
The good news is, options still remain for DREAMers who want to start or continue college in the fall. Here’s a look at some ways that undocumented students can pay for college:
Financial Aid for DACA Students
Are DACA students eligible for federal financial aid? Yes and no. According to the US Department of Education, undocumented students (including DREAMers) are not eligible to complete the FAFSA® unless they have a Social Security number; without a Social Security number, they’re ineligible for any of the well-known federal loans and grants and other federal aid sources.
However, that doesn’t mean DREAMers are without options. The following 16 states, for example, allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates:
• New Jersey.
• New Mexico.
• New York.
Washington, D.C., also extends in-state tuition benefits to immigrant students, along with a number of state university systems, including the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and, with additional guidelines students must meet, the Ohio Department of Higher Education .
State Financial Aid
Almost every state has at least one financial aid package available for its student residents, and eligibility varies widely from state to state. DACA students may also be eligible for a regional tuition exchange program , in which students may attend out-of-state colleges for in-state tuition rates (as long as the state has its own version of the DREAM Act or DACA or other laws in place to aid DREAMers).
Some states, including California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington have even gone a step further and created their own DACA-type programs, giving DREAMers access to state financial aid , whether from the state legislatures themselves or from specific universities.
Perhaps not surprisingly, California is one of the leading state advocates for allowing undocumented students access to higher education.
The California Dream Loan , passed in 2011, allows DREAMers to apply for a number of financial aid options including the California Dream Loan, one of the only subsidized loan programs for undergraduate undocumented students in the country.
Scholarships and Grants
For other states that have enacted their own version of DACA, financial aid more often comes in the form of scholarships or grants.
In Texas, home to the second-largest population of DACA recipients, students who fill out the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) may be eligible for loans, scholarships, and grants, most of which are determined and disbursed by various universities.
The University of Houston Urban Experience Program , for example, offers DACA students not only grants and scholarship assistance, but mentoring, tutoring, and academic support.
Nationally, many students begin their scholarship search at scholarships.com , which offers a comprehensive database of state and national scholarships, including those for which DREAMers may qualify.
One of the largest scholarship programs specifically for DREAMers is TheDream.US , which has helped more than 6,000 undocumented students obtain a college degree via a partner network of more than 70 colleges across the country.
Its National Scholarship Award covers tuition and fees up to $14,500 for associate’s degree programs and $29,000 for bachelor’s degrees at one of 70 partner colleges. Recipients may also be eligible for an additional $1,000 annual stipend for books and supplies.
The Opportunity Scholarship focuses on students who live in what the organization calls a “locked-out state,” one in which the student doesn’t have access to college, either because of geography or state laws.
The scholarship offers up to $20,000 a year toward out-of-state tuition for a bachelor’s degree at a partner college.
Several minority advocacy groups also compile lists of scholarship opportunities that don’t ask for immigration status or Social Security numbers, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) , and the DREAMer’s Roadmap .
Private Student Loans
Unlike federal student loans, which have a fixed interest rate and many different repayment plans and protections, private student loans operate more like auto or personal loans (and don’t have the same repayment options and protections like federal student loans).
A potential borrower applies for private student loans via a private lender, and offers are based on factors like creditworthiness and current market rates. And, unlike federal student loans, private student loans can be applied for at any time during a student’s college career.
For DREAMers, one big advantage of a private student loan is that the FAFSA® isn’t required, which means not having a Social Security number may not be as big a hurdle. Credit history still matters, though, so one route students may take is to have a citizen co-signer guarantee the loan.
At SoFi, DACA recipients and other undocumented students are eligible to apply for a private student loan or apply to refinance their current student loans as long as they have a citizen co-signer. (Quick note: This type of loan application must be completed via telephone vs. online.)
SoFi is a leader in the student loan space—offering both private student loans to help pay your way through school, or refinancing options to help you pay off your existing loans faster.
SoFi Private Student Loans
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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