Connecticut has become a popular state for undocumented immigrants looking to receive a college education.
The state extended the benefit of in-state tuition to those residents back in 2011. Since then, there has been a growing effort to allow those students access to the same tuition and other assistance that all other students receive.
"This is about fairness," Mark Ojakian, the president of the Connecticut State College and University System (CSCU), said.
The Higher Education Committee is considering legislation that would allow "Dreamers", as they’re known, to access the financial aid funds. All students, as a percentage of their tuition, pay into the funds that later provide institutional aid based on merit and need.
"These students pay into our institutional aid funds and they are unable to access it," Ojakian said. "It’s the only way they can be provided any kind of financial aid legally. The federal government precludes them from receiving any sort of federal financial assistance."
UConn also endorsed the legislation, saying the bill would allow equal access for all students.
Between UConn and the CSCU, more than $150 million in aid is provided by student tuition each year.
Jonathan Cruz-Gonzalez is an undocumented student who is about to finish his studies at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). He would like to attend law school and he will finish his undergraduate work with a double major in math and economics.
"I grew up here. I went to middle school here, I graduated high school here, I go to college here. I got my first internship here. All of the things that you would do if you were an American," Cruz-Gonzalez said.
The CCSU student was born in Mexico City and was brought to Connecticut by his parents when he was four years old. His brother was born in the United States, making his family one of mixed legal status.
Cruz-Gonzalez said more undocumented students need access to financial aid to at least provide them with opportunity and the chance to start and finish a degree program.
"As I’m about to graduate and I am an undocumented I am now going to be in the one to three percent of undocumented students who even graduate college so I should not be the exception. I should be the norm in our community," Cruz-Gonzalez said.
During the public hearing, there was no opposition to the bill, which received passage by the Connecticut Senate last year but was never raised for a vote in the Connecticut House.
Republicans did have some comments regarding how the aid money is distributed and how those determinations are made.
Representative Pam Stanesky said if students provide that money to a state institution then that’s akin to taxpayer money, and wondered whether the General Assembly should have more say in how it gets allocated.
"Should we be controlling how much is merit-based, how much is need-based, and how much is given work study and whether or not we include all pools of people in that," Stanesky said.
Ojakian said all students should have the same access especially since they are the ones making contributions.
"My feeling is that if students are asked to put their money into this pot, they should be able to access it," Ojakian said.