Testimony of Michael Fabricant
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY
Before the Joint Hearing of the Higher Education and Immigration Committees
In support of Council resolutions supporting state DREAM Legislation
to extend college financial aid to undocumented students
March 20, 2011
On behalf of the 25,000 members of Professional Staff Congress, I wish to thank Committee Chairpersons Rodriguez and Dromm and the members of the Council’s Higher Education and Immigration Committees for the opportunity to speak in support of the Council resolutions urging passage of state DREAM legislation which would extend financial aid to undocumented immigrant students who graduate high school or earn a GED in New York State
We are proud that a decade ago New York State extended access to a college education to undocumented immigrant students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates at CUNY and SUNY if they attend a New York high school for two years and graduate, or earned a GED here. New York has been a leader in this regard and the in-state tuition law has made it possible for thousands of undocumented students to obtain a college degree. An estimated 4,500 undocumented students now attend CUNY and many more would be able to if needs-based financial aid was available to them.
Our members see first-hand the heroic efforts that immigrant students make to attend college. They are hungry for a college education, and like the majority of CUNY students, come from families of very limited financial means. Fully 54% of all CUNY undergraduates come from households with annual income under $30,000; 38% get by on income less than $20,000. It is common for these students to work full time while going to college. Frequently they must take time off from school to earn enough money to pay for the next semester’s tuition and fees.
Students who are the children of immigrants (that is, they are first-generation Americans) and immigrant students who have permanent legal status are able to overcome many of these financial hurdles with the help of federal Pell Grants and the state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Undocumented students, however, are barred from these programs. The one large, publically-provided scholarship program which was available to undocumented students at CUNY in the past was the Peter Vallone Scholarship program, which was discontinued last spring. It is also worth noting that undocumented students do not have access to bank loans to finance their education.
The ability to pay in-state tuition at CUNY is an enormous benefit for undocumented immigrant students. But as you are aware tuition is rising. State law passed last August authorizes CUNY to increase senior college tuition $300; tuition will rise from $5,301 this year to $6,330 by the 2015-16 academic year. If community college tuition rises by the same amount as is anticipated, tuition will increase from $3,600 this year to $4,800 by 2015. Without access to financial aid or grants, undocumented students at CUNY who have to pay the whole “sticker price” may not be able to continue at such prices.
The PSC strongly supports the Committees’ resolution calling on the Governor and Legislature pass the New York DREAM legislation. In addition, we would urge you to combine support for both pieces of legislation with support for legislation introduced by the New York Board of Regents (A 9344). This bill also extends TAP grants to undocumented students and provides access to New York’s 529 college saving program.
The Dream Fund legislation (A8689/S6071) we note provides scholarships from a public-private fund to citizen and legal resident children of immigrants as well as undocumented children. The PSC strongly supports expanding financial aid to all low-income students. However, in this context, we feel the priority should be given undocumented students as citizen and legal resident students already have access to federal Pell and state TAP grants. Finally we ask the Council to consider restoring the Vallone Scholarships in this year’s budget process. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.