The Trump administration recently approved a $2 trillion dollar coronavirus package that included more than $6 billion dollars in grants that are to be distributed to college students. However, that emergency aid will not be available to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students.
Emergency Aid Plan
The aid is designed to help students who have been impacted by the closing of college campuses across the United States. The money will be distributed to individual educational institutions, who will then disperse the funds to students in need.
Initially, colleges and universities were under the impression that they would be able to distribute the aid allotted to their students at their discretion, but Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos specified that the approved funds were only allowed to be distributed to students who were legal citizens of the United States.
This specification leaves tens of thousands of students unable to seek aid. It drastically affects international students who are studying in the US from foreign countries, as well as undocumented DACA students. Commonly known as Dreamers, these are students who were brought to the US by their parents and are afforded special status under policies implemented by the Obama administration.
Trump Administration’s Reasoning
DeVos’s claim is that the policy is congruent with all existing federal student aid policies. According to the Higher Education Act, undocumented, DACA, and foreign students have never been eligible to apply for federally funded student aid.
However, many DACA students do file with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so they can receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). SAR reports document a student’s financial need and allow many of these students to take advantage of scholarships and grants offered by the individual universities. This allows individual colleges to grant scholarship money based on student need, regardless of their citizenship status.
Colleges and universities have been left confused by the guidelines and unsure exactly which students are eligible for the federal aid package. According to the Associated Press, the initial documentation that colleges signed to receive the funds claimed that the money was not considered federal financial aid and should be distributed to the neediest students at the college’s discretion, but the Education Department has now specified otherwise.
Opponents of this decision claim that in this unprecedented time, excluding DACA students leaves them with few options for financial support, since their families will not be receiving federal stimulus funds due to their citizenship status.
Sara Goldrick-Rab, founder of the nonprofit Hope Center for College, Community and Justice told the AP, “They’re not going to have the money that they need to stay connected to their college. And people who drop out of college often do not come back.”
Many colleges, including Princeton and Harvard have refused the federal money based on the restrictions. The citizenship requirement now leaves many universities scrambling to find scholarships and grant money for their neediest students, many of whom are not US citizens.