California Debuts Updated Financial Aid Application for Undocumented Students

The California Dream Act Application will now include the required legal affidavit undocumented students must fill out to be eligible for state financial aid.
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Published on January 16, 2024
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  • California rolled out an updated California Dream Act Application in 2024, simplifying the process undocumented students must undergo to qualify for state financial aid.
  • The application will now include the legal affidavit required to prove they qualify for exemption from nonresident tuition.
  • Previously, the affidavit and application were filled out separately.
  • Undocumented students do not qualify for federal aid, making college more expensive and often out of reach.

California has rolled out its updated version of the California Dream Act Application (CADAA), combining the application with the legal affidavit students must sign to demonstrate their eligibility to qualify for in-state tuition.

The Golden State is home to the largest undocumented student population in the country, with nearly 100,000 students. California is one of 24 states plus the District of Columbia that provides in-state tuition to undocumented students and one of 18 that also provides access to state financial aid, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal.

Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants. With the CADAA, undocumented students in California can qualify for state financial aid including the Cal Grant, Middle-Class Scholarship, and the California Dream Act Service Incentive Grant.

The application change may seem insignificant. However, the multiple, separate forms undocumented students were required to fill out left many who would have qualified for aid behind, California Student Aid Commission's (CSAC) Communications and Public Affairs Coordinator Shelveen Ratnam told BestColleges.

This process for filling out the [application], it's pretty confusing and burdensome ... [it] often delayed undocumented students from receiving financial aid and sometimes, in some cases, even prevented them from accessing financial aid altogether, he said.

More than half of undocumented students in California did not fill out the CADAA, according to the CSAC data from 2021-2022. Among those who did fill out the form, only 30% enrolled and received state financial aid.

Finding a Solution

CSAC convened a workgroup with students, campus representatives, and higher education experts to identify pain points for undocumented students when filling out financial aid forms and recommend how federal, state, and campus policies could change to help streamline the process.

In March 2023, the workgroup published its findings, which found, among other things, that the application process was hard to navigate, involving multiple forms with confusing and repetitive questions.

The solution? Combine CADAA and the AB 540 affidavit, so that students only needed to submit one form.

The affidavit, named after the 2001 legislation that made undocumented students in California eligible for in-state college tuition, affirms that the student has applied to legalize their immigration status or will file an application as soon as they are eligible to do so.

If a student does not fill out the affidavit, they will be deemed ineligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid.

In 2021, California Community Colleges received 62,417 AB 540 affidavits and 25,532 California Dream Act Applications, according to data from CSAC sent to BestColleges. This meant over 36,000 students were deemed ineligible to receive state financial aid since they did not submit both forms.

Assemblymember Mike Fong, D-Alhambra, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, introduced the legislation sponsored by CSAC. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on Oct. 8, 2023.

Now students in this upcoming year can begin applying for aid through the CADAA and complete their 540 affidavit form in one step instead of going through the multi-step complex process that students had to do before, Ratnam said.

Ratnam added that other changes for the 2024 application include more accessible language and question prompts and a more simplified parent signature requirement.

Aid, college affordability, and challenges that undocumented students specifically face are at the heart of what the commission does. We remain committed to expanding access to financial aid, too, to all students by making them realize their dreams of attending college.