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Voices: ASSET doesn't help all students

Lauren Sisneros, a pre-collegiate advisor in the Adams 14 Commerce City school district, believes the passage of ASSET will ultimately help all undocumented students seeking college degrees, although it might take time.
Senate Bill 13-033, commonly known as Colorado’s ASSET bill, was re-introduced this year and approved recently by state lawmakers. The bill allows undocumented students to pay the same tuition as Colorado residents. To be eligible, students must attend at least three years of high school or complete their GED in Colorado and be accepted to an in-state college or university. Undocumented students would also have to submit an affidavit committing to seeking lawful status as soon as they are able.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill some time this month.

The passage of the bill will definitely assist many of the students who attend Adams 14 Commerce City schools with the financial obligations of affording college.

However, it will not resolve the issue of GEAR UP’s inability to serve undocumented students. The bill addresses state tuition at the state level.

GEAR UP, a federally-funded program, serves students under federal guidelines. So the ASSET bill would not change the requirement that students in GEAR UP have a social security number. Changes must occur at the federal level in order for GEAR UP to serve undocumented students.

Recruiting students for the GEAR UP program and not being able to accept students who are undocumented has proven to be a challenge as a pre-collegiate advisor. During the first year of recruitment, I was unable to accept over 40 students who were interested in joining a college readiness program in hopes that their futures would be brighter.

Many of these students – who are more than capable, disciplined and eager to achieve the higher education dream – were disappointed to learn that they were unable to join our program because they didn’t have a number. For some, this disappointing experience is the first realization that their college fate is determined based on whether or not they were born in the United States. These students, most of whom know their parents brought them to the U.S. with hopes of better futures, feel isolated and hopeless.

Many of these students who were not accepted are now ninth-graders and still stop by the GEAR UP office to say ‘hello’ or ask questions. Many of them are aware of the Colorado ASSET bill and some are trying to establish residency in the United States. When students question why they were not accepted into GEAR UP, I explain the differences in state and federal funding and encourage them by explaining that the passage of the ASSET bill is a positive step towards access to higher education for all students.

Even though the ASSET bill will not allow GEAR UP to serve undocumented students, I believe the bill will eventually help our students in some way. Until federal requirements are changed, school districts should explore options to fund pre-collegiate programs that serve undocumented students. All students can benefit from pre-collegiate programs that introduce them to higher education and help them navigate through the process.

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