Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

UC Dreamers to get more financial aid, advisers this fall

'Dreamer' students from UCLA prepare to enter their graduation ceremony in 2012.
'Dreamer' students from UCLA prepare to enter their graduation ceremony in 2012.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra

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When they head to campus this fall, some 2,000 ‘Dreamers’ in the University of California system will see more advisers and financial aid waiting for them.

UC President Janet Napolitano’s office has split $5 million among the nine undergraduate campuses to improve services and ease the financial burden on students who came to the country illegally as children.       

How much each campus received was based on the estimated size of its Dreamer population. One of the things UC Riverside is doing with its $512,000 allocation is hiring a program coordinator to advise these students on everything from finances to academics.

“Sometimes we find that our undocumented students are hesitant to reach out for services they’re eligible for because they want to fly under the radar,” said Joe Virata, UC Riverside’s assistant dean of students.

UC Irvine, which received $593,000, has just hired its first coordinator to work with these students. UCLA, which has had one for five years, has brought on a second staffer. With its $848,000 allocation, it’s also set up textbook lending library, dining hall meal vouchers and assistance with school transportation costs.

“Many of our students say it’s been life-changing just knowing they can get access to these resources,” said Angela Chen, UCLA’s Undocumented Student Programs Coordinator.

State law allows many of these students to qualify for in-state tuition. But Chen said, “they still have tremendous financial aid needs and challenges.”

Without legal status, students can’t join the federal work-study program available to other students. That’s why at UC Riverside, immigrant students asked that financial aid come primarily in the form of a work-study program especially for them.  

In comparison, schools such as UCLA and UC Irvine are choosing to deliver financial aid to as many students as possible over the next two years largely through scholarships — about $600, and $700, respectively, according to school officials.  

Napolitano, who announced the $5 million initiative last fall, is coming up on her one-year anniversary as university president. Student groups have repeatedly attacked her past as Secretary of Homeland Security, and her oversight of deportations.  

Dreamers are a tiny proportion of the 182,000 undergraduates — about 1 percent. But UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said that Napolitano is committed to letting “these students know they are welcome and valued members of the university community.”

“She felt that for too long undocumented students were either in the shadows or felt discriminated against, or disadvantaged in some way,” Klein said. “So she’s aiming to erase any disadvantage –perceived or otherwise.”

Klein said the president’s office has created an "Undocumented Student Resources" page that explains what resources are available to this group, and set up the ‘Presidential Task force on Undocumented Students” that includes students and faculty. The goal is to better direct legal assistance to social services to these students, Klein said.

The funding from the president’s office was a one-time allocation. UCLA’s Chen said her office is trying to find other sources of funding to continue the programs started by the president’s initiative.

“There’s a very strong commitment from all of us to see these programs continue and grow,” Chen said.