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Financial aid office posts undocumented student policy

Its website has been updated with information about undocumented students’ financial aid eligibility

Undocumented students have been able to receive financial aid from the University for at least seven years. But this fact was not readily available online until March 21, when the Office of Financial Aid updated the frequently asked questions section of its website to include information for undocumented applicants.

The site now says financial aid is available for undocumented students who apply for it and demonstrate financial need. Undocumented students are admitted through a need-aware process and can receive University and outside scholarships but not federal or state  funding.

Though the policy on financial aid for undocumented immigrants is not new, the update was published after the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition asked for the information to be made available online, said Jim Tilton, director of financial aid. The policy has been in place since at least 2006, when Tilton came to Brown, he said. Other Ivy League intitutions do not have their financial aid policies on undocumented students readily available, said Maria Camila Bustos ’16.

The coalition pursued this issue because they wanted the information on an existing policy to be made more accessible, said Esteban Roncancio ’15, a member of BIRC.

Roncancio, who was undocumented when he applied to transfer to Brown in 2012, realized he could receive aid by talking with Alejo Stark ’13, a student who was undocumented when he applied to the University and a friend from Roncancio’s hometown, he said.

“I was lucky to know someone who I could ask,” Roncancio said. “I would never have known that I would be able to receive aid otherwise.”

Stark, a member of BIRC who applied to transfer to Brown in 2010, learned of Brown’s policy while he was considering where to apply. He called each school’s financial aid office and asked about receiving aid as an undocumented student. He said the availability of this information online will have an important impact for future undocumented students who apply.

“I didn’t know who was on the other end of the line,” he said. “As an undocumented student, there is a certain fear that inhabits you and prevents you from doing certain things.”

The University of Chicago, Vassar College and the University of California at Berkeley “have had this information online for more than three years,” Bustos said.

The online update also coincides with a period of immigration reform in the United States, Stark said, adding that the update came after President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals passed. The law allows undocumented young people who came to the United States before the age of 16 and are in school, are in the military or have obtained a high school degree to apply for temporary work status.

The update to the financial aid website comes after a three-year process, BIRC members said. In 2010 and 2011, the group met with the Admission Office and the Office of Public Affairs and University Relations. But the site wasn’t updated until the group met with the Office of Financial Aid this year, they said.

“This year, it took BIRC a concentrated effort and extensive follow-ups with various administrators and deans to finally get to Tilton,” Stark wrote in an email to The Herald.

Administrators seemed to have some hesitation about the change, group members said.

“They were worried about funding because there are people who fund Brown who are not amenable to bringing in so-called ‘illegals,’” Stark said.

After meeting with the financial aid office and suggesting ways to phrase the policy and where the information should be located on the website, the office put the information online, Bustos said.

“They were very well-organized and came up with language from our own policy,” Tilton said, adding that it was easier to process the update because BIRC was not asking the office to change any of its policies.

Tilton said he is glad the change was made.

“We didn’t purposefully keep the information off the website,” Tilton said. “Students brought our attention to the issue, and we had a very good, thoughtful exchange with them in working to resolve it,” he said, adding that in the process of making information on financial aid available online, certain groups may be unintentionally missed.

Undocumented applicants go through a financial aid application process similar to that of students who are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents. Brown is need-aware for these applicants, so the financial aid office works with the admission office to determine an applicant’s need and admission status, Tilton said.

“Strictly from a financial aid perspective, we’re not breaking any laws because we are not using federal or state funding to finance packages of undocumented students,” Tilton said.

“The University’s (Office of the Vice President and General Counsel) would have given the policy some thought before implementing it,” said Attorney Len O’Brien, who offers on-campus legal aid.

“Providing University-based financial aid to undocumented students” does not present any legal risks, wrote Edward von Gerichten, associate counsel at the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, in an email to The Herald.

The web update should not create legal problems because “the statement by the financial aid office is for the purpose of providing information about the practice of the University regarding aid for undocumented students,” he wrote.


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