Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau testified in Sacramento Wednesday on behalf of the California Dream Act, urging the Senate Education Committee to expand opportunities for undocumented students by allowing them to qualify for state-administered financial-aid programs.
“I consider it an honor to represent these worthy students from my campus,” Birgeneau said. “They are pursuing the dream of higher education and the hope of contributing to our state and our nation as productive citizens.”
While praising undocumented students for their “tremendous initiative and courage,” Birgeneau said “they are carrying burdens far beyond what we expect of other students.” Without financial help, he warned, their educational opportunities are compromised, and the state’s economy is apt to suffer as well.
The chancellor spoke at a Capitol hearing on AB 131, part of a two-bill package supporters have dubbed the California Dream Act. The bill would allow students who are exempted from paying nonresident tuition under a 2001 law, AB 540, to apply for and participate in any state-administered student financial-aid program, including institutional aid and Cal Grant awards.
A companion bill, AB 130, would allow the UC, CSU and community-college systems to provide financial aid to undocumented students from their own financial-aid reserves. That bill has been passed by the state Assembly and the Senate Education Committee, and is expected to go to the Senate Appropriations Committee next month.
Birgeneau has long supported the cause of so-called AB 540 students, and testified before the Assembly Higher Education Committee in March on behalf of AB 130. In his appearance on Wednesday, he told the Senate panel that AB 540 “opens the doors of higher education in a way that allows many more students to achieve their full potential,” but that “it is not enough, absent some financial assistance.”
For undocumented students, the full costs of attending college — at Berkeley, around $31,000 per year — often exceeds their total family incomes.
The chancellor called AB 131, authored by Los Angeles Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, “a critical component of ensuring that these students can attend UC Berkeley, and achieve degrees that allow them to contribute to the economic and social vitality of our state.”
And he thanked Cedillo for his “constancy” in advocating for the Dream Act, because “UC Berkeley students are truly some of California’s best and brightest.”
Among the students who testified at the hearing was Maria Luna, an aspiring law student who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was three days old. Luna told the panel how she’d received a private scholarship to UC Davis, but that the money was placed in a joint account with her mother, who kept it for herself.
“America raised me, America adopted me,” Luna said. “I am inspired by the best of the American tradition.”
If the bills are approved by the state Senate, they will go back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote and be forwarded to Gov. Jerry Brown for his consideration. Similar bills were vetoed by Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in last year’s legislative session.