One-on-one with Dr. Daisy Gonzales, California Community Colleges Interim Chancellor
Everyone has a career they dream about, a profession they aspire to one day achieve even if it may feel unattainable. If not for themselves, then for their children who may be the first in their family to achieve the American Dream. For most Californians, getting a college education is the first step to making your dream a reality—and community colleges can help.
For far too long, immigrant families with and without documented status have encountered barriers to education, experiencing everything from racism to challenges accessing support services and financial assistance for fear of deportation.
Immigrants are the fabric of our society and for many California communities. That is why we believe that everyone deserves a fair and equitable opportunity to follow their dreams. Immigrants are the aspiring medical professionals, lawmakers, community leaders, engineers, teachers, scientists, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. They are dreamers who play a crucial role in our state and our nation’s economic prosperity and growth—and California community college can help them get there.
This year, the Sixth Annual Undocumented Student Action Week is celebrated from October 17-21 and aims to recognize and remove barriers in accessing higher education so that every student can find academic success and transform their lives, families and communities. By engaging and activating students, faculty, staff, and administrators to support the needs of undocumented students enrolled in California community colleges, we hope to inspire more students to see community colleges as a pathway to achieving their dreams.
To help us understand what California community college offers undocumented students, we asked California Community Colleges Interim Chancellor Dr. Daisy Gonzales to answer some frequently asked questions.
Can undocumented Californians attend community college?
Dr. Gonzales: Yes, absolutely! California’s community colleges are designed to support students of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of documentation status, providing many different pathways to help students find the career of their dreams. While some students attend community college as a steppingstone to a four-year degree, a large percentage of our students attend community college for our specialized career education training programs. With 116 community colleges throughout the state offering degrees and training certificates in more than 200 high-quality career education programs, California community college graduates reach their dream careers and become nurses, welders, firefighters, healthcare professionals, and automotive technicians, just to name a few. Regardless of a student’s goals, community college can help them get there, by proving high quality education and flexible, hands-on training to prepare students for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow.
What is the cost of attending a California community college and are undocumented Californians eligible for financial aid and grants?
Dr. Gonzales: Costs vary depending on the students need and goals, but thanks to the state budget recently approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, all students regardless of documentation status can apply for state-based financial aid and grants. These changes are the result of years of advocacy by the Board of Governors, students, system leaders and advocates.
There are new grants and changes to existing grants that can provide students with much needed support to go to college and succeed. Grants like the Student Success Completion Grant offers students $4,000 per semester for attending full-time by taking 15 or more units, and $1,298 per semester for taking 12 to 14.9 units. Through the California College Promise Grant (AB 19), any full-time student who has not earned a certificate or post-secondary degree can qualify to get their tuition fees waived. Beyond tuition, there are programs that can help pay for textbooks and supplies, housing, food, transportation, childcare and more. These programs are in place because we want our students to succeed and achieve their dreams.
Undocumented students who have AB 540 eligibility (this means they attended a California high school for at least three years; graduated from a California high school or received the equivalent such as a GED; and filed an affidavit with the community college stating that they will file an application to adjust their immigration status as soon as they are eligible) can qualify for state aid by submitting a California Dream Act Application. This is a safe, free application which will help qualify students for the most possible financial aid. We do not share information with the federal government and encourage all to apply.
In this year’s budget, the state also adopted new programs that offer paid work-based learning opportunities and are open to undocumented students. One example is the College Corps program, which offers our students $10,000 for educational expenses in exchange for serving your community in three critical areas of service to our state: climate change, education and food banks.
What are the steps to enrolling at community college as an undocumented student?
Dr. Gonzales: The first step is to visit ICanGoToCollege.com. There, future students can find the community college campus that is right for them, begin an online application, and complete the California Dream Act form to qualify for financial aid.
Once admitted, students can register to take classes. If a student is not sure where to start, they can begin by contacting the college’s academic advisors or UndocuLiaison, who can provide them with direct support and help them determine what college path is right for them.
What would you say to an undocumented student considering community college?
Dr. Gonzales: Thank you for the question. As the first in my biological family to attend college, I am confident that every student can achieve their dreams if given the opportunity and supports to thrive. To our future students, our system and this state want you to succeed. You are welcomed and wanted at a California Community College.
At a California community college, students can develop the skills and receive the training needed to find a successful career in a high-demand, well-paying industry after graduation. For students who want to continue their education and transfer to a four-year university, community college makes it even easier by guaranteeing a saved spot through our Associate Degree for Transfer program. And new this year, is the expansion of bachelor’s degrees at California Community Colleges. This new pathway is affordable and offers you a direct pipeline to earn a four-year degree. Remember that there is no single journey to make your dreams a reality. It is never too late to enroll and attend community college. The hard part is being brave enough to believe in your dreams. So when you’re ready, we are here to help. Visit ICanGoToCollege.com and enroll for late start fall courses today.