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Accessing financial aid for undocumented students a ‘top priority’ in higher education committees

Bills to access higher education took center stage in both the House and Senate higher education committees this week in Olympia.

Wednesday afternoon’s public hearing on HB 1488, sponsored by Representative Hansen, drew a large crowd and many supporters wishing to give their public testimony. HB 1488 aims to expand eligibility for financial aid opportunities for all students in the state, including those who are undocumented.

Under current law, if an undocumented student meets several requirements such as living in Washington for at least three years, graduating from a Washington high school, and filing an affidavit that they will apply for permanent residency, they then qualify for in-state tuition. This is referred to as 1079 status. However, even if they jump through these hoops, they may be excluded from other opportunities like the College Bound Scholarship Program.

The committee heard testimony from several students in both high school and college who signed up for the College Bound Scholarship Program in middle school, only to find out later on in high school that due to their undocumented status, they were not eligible for the financial aid.

The bill also looks to protect those with DACA status. DACA allows students to gain access and eligibility to certain financial aid options. Without DACA, that eligibility disappears. On a federal level, the continued uncertainty surrounding the DACA program leaves many students vulnerable to losing their financial aid and having to drop out of college.

“Look, we want to protect the students that are currently eligible, keep things the way they are, and make sure these students still get whatever financial aid benefits they’re entitled to no matter what the Trump administration does or doesn’t do with DACA,” said Rep. Hansen on Wednesday.

The Senate Higher Education Workforce Committee heard testimony on HB 1488’s companion bill this morning. SB 5074, sponsored by Senator Frockt, similarly looks to expand and maintain financial aid eligibility. Though this bill has been introduced five times, this is the first time it has received a hearing in the Senate.

Senator Ranker, Chair of the Higher Education Workforce Committee, expressed his full support of these bills saying,

“This bill as an absolute top priority for us to move. In Washington State we will not only protect, but we will make sure that every single member of every single community has access and has affordability when they want to go to college.”

The Senate committee also heard public testimony on the creation of a Student Loan Bill of Rights, which comes by request of the Attorney General, as well as a bill involving the creation of a free college program for those below the median family income.

HB 1488 is scheduled for executive action on January 17 in the House Committee on Higher Education.