On, May 13, 2019, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law a new bill which gives undocumented students full access to state-provided financial aid. The State of Colorado awards a collected $160 million a year in financial aid. The state sees approximately 250,000 students enroll in higher education every year, and awards just over 50,000 degrees. The bill is expected to boost attendance at small rural colleges across the state, schools too small to supplement state financial aid themselves.
Students hoping to benefit under the new law must be recent graduates from a Colorado high school, and have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years. They must also sign a declaration saying that they’re actively seeking legal status as soon as they’re eligible.
“We have a commitment to all of the students in the state of Colorado to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality post-secondary option,” said Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “Those students who are our students should also have the pathway toward higher education.”
Undocumented student Leslie Gallegos is not young enough to access this new aid. But her sisters, ages 16, 11, and 7 will be when it is time for them to pursue post-secondary education.
“This is huge just because I get to see them follow their dreams and achieve their goals,” Gallegos said.
This isn’t the first measure Colorado has put into place to help undocumented students go to college.
In 2013, the state of Colorado ruled that under certain conditions, immigrant youths without legal status could get in-state tuition at state colleges. Reducing costs by two-thirds that was a large step in making it popular for these vulnerable students to become assets to the country as adults.
Since then, the law has given 1,350 undocumented students the chance to attend college at in-state tuition rates. The new law will have a broader reach. The Department of Higher Education points out that all of these students and their families have paid taxes, contributing more to local economies than these opportunities cost.
Despite years of previous opposition to spending any state funds on undocumented populations, this bill was supported on both sides of the aisle in the Colorado state government. Colorado, which has historically tended towards conservative decisions, may be seeing a tidal change at the lawmaker level.
“Students who have been through all of our schooling and then we say, ‘You can go this far and no more,’’ Paccione told Colorado Public Radio. “What a travesty that would be to our state, to our state’s economy, to our communities to have students who have great potential and great promise not [to] be able to activate that potential.”