DREAM Act has room for improvement

Undocumented students face obstacles at a federal level when applying for student aid.

by Keelia Moeller

It’s been more than a year since Gov. Mark Dayton passed the Minnesota’s DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students residing in the state to apply for financial aid. By filing an application, undocumented students who aspire to attend college can now become eligible for a Minnesota State Grant if they meet certain requirements.

The DREAM Act application does not require official documentation for those who are unable to provide it, but any college hopeful must have graduated high school in Minnesota and be able to prove that they are applying for lawful immigration status.

This step toward equality was monumental, and it has certainly provided opportunities to those that deserve them. However, some of this program’s inconsistencies seem to have been overlooked.

Federal aid increases or decreases along with a student’s academic credit load, among other factors — students who take a full load of credits or come from a disadvantaged family generally receive more federal grant money.

One problem is that undocumented students cannot receive federal aid from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In fact, the DREAM Act fact page actually warns against applying for FAFSA aid. Without being eligible for this money, undocumented students must resort to working longer hours, which in turn drives up their income and lowers the amount of aid they are able to receive at the state level.

This formula presents no problems to students who are eligible to receive federal Pell Grants. However, undocumented students are legally prohibited from receiving money from the federal government. Taking more credits in turn does not correlate to increased aid from the state. Students hoping to graduate in four years must combat working longer hours to afford their classes and decreased amounts of time to study.

In many cases, this formula forces undocumented students to lighten their academic workloads in order to maximize the financial benefits they receive from the state. This is rather disheartening for those who are hoping to complete their academic journey in a reasonable amount of time and actually focus on their studies.

Even with its drawback, there are still many benefits. Undocumented students are able to pay in-state tuition, receive privately funded aid and still have an opportunity to do this while working on becoming legal residents. It is not perfect, but it is a start.

We should not let this discourage the nation from working toward change. With great changes come great flaws, but not insurmountable ones. Regardless, the Minnesota DREAM Act is an enormous step in the right direction.

Allowing undocumented students to go to college, find a decent job and contribute to society while trying to attain their green cards — and ultimately citizenship — benefits everyone. More needs to be done to address the gap between state and federal aid for undocumented workers, as having conflicting laws just confuses everyone and benefits no one.