For many students, federal financial aid is the difference between being able to afford college and never going. For Dreamer students, these resources are unavailable, leaving many of them struggling to afford the college education they have dreamed of. These struggles might be a little easier if a new proposal becomes law.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee released a higher education spending proposal that, for the first time ever, would expand access to federal financial aid to students who hold Deferred Action Status for Arrivals. of Children (DACA), also known as Dreamers.
The proposal to open up federal student aid to Dreamers was included in a funding plan that would increase Department of Education (ED) funding by 13% for fiscal year 2023. The plan also includes an increase of $500 of the Maximum Pell Grant and increases funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI). Additionally, the funding plan would increase funding for childcare assistance for students and provide additional funds for adult education and technical education.
The bill was approved by a vote of 32 to 24.
College is hard enough to afford even with access to federal student aid; providing dreamers with access to federal financial aid would make a huge difference in helping them pay for their education. Currently, Dreamers are not eligible for any federal financial aid, although some states, including California and Texas, provide state grants to Dreamers. Access to federal aid would provide access to Pell grants, federal student loans, and work-study funds.
The Obama administration set up DACA to provide support to students who were brought to the United States as children by their parents. The law provides work authorization and protection against deportation for approximately 650,000 people. However, this represents a minority of potentially eligible people, with some estimates suggesting up to 3.6 million dreamers. Many either did not apply to the program or grew old in it after it stopped accepting new applications.
DACA has faced multiple legal challenges and setbacks, with recipients often wondering if their legal status will change in the blink of an eye. The Trump administration tried, unsuccessfully, to end the program on several occasions. More recently, the Biden administration said it intended to strengthen the program to ensure DACA recipients have greater certainty about their future. A court ruling that blocked the processing of any new DACA applications made it impossible to expand the programs.
The Dreaming Students have campaigned for years for access to federal student aid to enable them to get into higher education, rightly arguing that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Since the implementation of DACA, recipients have become more likely to graduate, increase their earning potential, and become more likely to enter professional fields.
The current proposal is still far from becoming law at this time. The house still has to vote on the proposal, where it has a reasonable chance of passing. The proposal will likely face greater opposition in the Senate, where many Republicans are likely to oppose the expansion of federal student aid programs, especially for undocumented students.
The Dreamers continue to face huge uncertainty about their future, with their status being used as eternal political football. Improving federal financial aid policy to support dreamers would go a long way to improving their long-term security. Providing support to help Dreamers pay for the education they seek is the clearest example of helping achieve the American Dream.