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Blog Post · September 11, 2017

California’s Dream Act

diverse group of students on college campus

As the federal government moves to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, California is continuing to support the higher education aspirations of undocumented students. California’s Dream Act is a set of laws intended to lower the cost of higher education for certain undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children and raised in California. Thousands of California students have benefited from the program so far.

College can be especially expensive for undocumented students. For tuition purposes they are not technically California residents and therefore are not eligible for in-state tuition. Public colleges and universities charge extra tuition for nonresidents: currently an additional $28,000 per year at UC and $6,000 per year at CSU. In addition, undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants or federal loans, leaving college out of reach for many who are low-income.

California passed AB 540 in 2001, which waives the nonresident portion of tuition for undocumented childhood arrivals as long as they meet certain criteria, including spending three or more years in California K‒12 schools, graduating from a California high school, and promising  to apply for legalizing their immigration status as soon as they are eligible to do so.  In addition, the state passed AB 130 and AB 131 in 2011, which allows state and institutional financial aid to be given to students eligible under AB 540.

Undocumented students cannot file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal and state financial aid for college. This means that many do not have access to Cal Grants, one of the state’s main forms of financial aid. Instead, those who are eligible can apply for Cal Grants using the California Dream Act application.

Of all Cal Grant offers in 2014‒15, about 3% have been made to California Dream Act applicants. Of those eligible for the awards, both FAFSA filers and Dream Act filers have similar GPAs. However, those obtaining a Cal Grant through the state Dream Act application were more likely to come from families with parents without college degrees and with lower family incomes.

A student’s DACA status has no bearing on the California’s Dream Act, so AB 540 students will continue to pay in-state tuition rates and can apply for and receive state and institutional aid to help lower the cost of college, even if the federal DACA program ends. However, without a work permit these undocumented students still cannot work legally in the US, even if they obtain a degree from a California college or university. The approximately quarter of a million Californians covered by DACA will still be subject to deportation without further federal legislative or executive action. That uncertainty could keep otherwise qualified students from earning a college degree.

Learn more

Read “DACA and California’s Future” on the PPIC Blog.

Visit the PPIC Higher Education Center.


Access Affordability California State University DACA financial aid Higher Education Population undocumented immigrants University of California