Informational session about state REAL Hope Act planned in Pasco

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 12, 2014 

Education officials are trying to get the word out that a new state law has the potential to help hundreds of undocumented Mid-Columbia residents pay for college.

An informational session is planned Friday at Columbia Basin College in Pasco on Washington's REAL Hope Act, which opened state financial aid to some undocumented immigrants, a release said.

The session is aimed at informing students and parents about who qualifies for financial help and how to apply for it.

While it's not clear how the legislation will affect CBC or Washington State University Tri-Cities, officials at each school said they support the new law and its ability to increase access to education.

"I know several situations where students saved up and started but after a quarter or two they had to step out to work and get money," said Martn Valadez, CEO of the Columbia Basin College Foundation.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the legislation, previously called the Washington DREAM Act, in late February. It's similar to proposed federal legislation that would give citizenship to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, lived here for a minimum number of years, have graduated from a U.S. high school and stayed out of trouble.

The state legislation doesn't provide citizenship but would make applicable students eligible for need-based state grants for higher education by using many of the qualifying parameters of the federal proposal. That could mean a lot to the high number of immigrant families in the Tri-Cities, officials said.

"The REAL Hope legislation increases access to higher education and helps makes students feel more welcome on college campuses," Chris Meiers, vice chancellor for enrollment management and student services at Washington State University Tri-Cities, said in a statement to the Herald.

As part of the new legislation, the state has set aside an additional $5 million for State Need Grants. Students can begin applying for the grants on April 1 and begin using them to pay for school expenses this fall.

Information sessions on the new law are happening around the state sponsored by the Washington Student Achievement Council and the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, or LEAP. Educational Service District 123, based in Pasco, is helping with the CBC event.

Along with meeting certain guidelines, students will still have to go through an application process, including filing a Washington Application for State Financial Aid, or WASFA. More information at: www.readysetgrad.org/wasfa

It's unclear how the legislation could affect enrollment and retention rates but it would likely be positive, officials said, as it would be easier for more students to afford taking college classes and stay in school.

"Books can cost as much as $1,000," Valadez said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

Editor's note: Corrects earlier version that listed incorrect student aid form.)

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