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Fostering an Inclusive Environment

Leaders at Cal Poly Pomona aim to create an inclusive environment for undocumented students, first by creating an AB 540 liaison.

Although undocumented students who meet specific residency criteria have been eligible to receive in-state tuition in California since the passage of Assembly Bill 540 in 2001, many were being asked to pay international student rates by university administrators and staff who did not know the law existed.

So, in the fall of 2006, Mery Hernández, EOP outreach and admissions counselor for California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona), invited undocumented students to an AB 540 workshop led by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. About 30 students attended the event, which Hernández calls the first step towards gaining support from the university for AB 540 students.

According to “The College & Financial Aid Guide for: AB540 Undocumented Immigrant Students,” published by the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California, qualifying AB 540 students must meet all of the following criteria: attendance at a California high school for three or more years followed by graduation or receipt of General Education Development (GED), registration at or current enrollment in an institution of higher education in California, a filed affidavit, as required by individual institutions, stating that they will apply for legal residency as soon as possible.

Cecilia Santiago, coordinator for the César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education at Cal Poly Pomona, estimates that anywhere from 300 to 500 students attending the university fall under AB 540, although the exact number is unknown because the university keeps the identity of these students confidential.

Although AB 540 offers students in-state rates that are considerably lower than outof- state rates — in the CSU system, for example, out-of-state students pay $12,420 in fees compared to $2,864 for in-state students per year — they are still ineligible to receive state or federal financial aid. Hernández, an alumna of Cal Poly Pomona, was familiar with the financial challenges AB 540 students face and decided to help them.

“Throughout the whole time I was here as a student, and maybe previous to that, there wasn’t anyone who was paying attention to this particular group of students,” says Hernández.

Soon after the first workshop at Cal Poly Pomona, students began organizing themselves and created a student group known as Demanda Estudiantil Para Igualdad Educaciónal (DEPIE) — Student Demand for Equity in Education in English.

The students then met with President J. Michael Ortiz to discuss some of the challenges they were facing on campus, and he responded by appointing Hernández to the newly created role of AB 540 liaison.

One of the things Hernández did irst was to set up a Web site ( to provide students information on available scholarships and keep the campus up to date on immigration laws. She also informed professors on how to aid their AB 540 students.

Other institutions in the CSU System have also launched initiatives to better serve undocumented students and educate the campus community on the law. For example, California State University, Fullerton, set up a task force to develop an antidote to the staff and students’ miseducation on AB 540.

Mark Kamimura-Jiménez, director for educational partnerships at Cal State Fullerton, says the university has taken a first step by organizing the conference, “Challenges and Opportunities II: Conversations about Immigration and Higher Education,” set to take place June 1-3 at the school. This conference is a follow up to one which took place at the University of Michigan in June of 2007.

“I really feel this series of conferences on immigration will be more than just a place to learn about this topic,” says Kamimura- Jiménez. “It’s going to be more of an impetus for change and action on this topic and will really open doors to new ideas and practices.”

Staff members at both institutions say that student organizations like DEPIE at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Fullerton’s student group, Alliance of Students for an Equal Education, have also been instrumental in effecting change and voicing the concerns of undocumented students. At Cal State Fullerton, ASEE has asked the task force to create an AB 540 liaison like the one at Cal Poly Pomona.

“The bottom line is creating a campus climate that embraces the diversity of our student body regardless of their ethnicity, their citizenship status or their social status or any other identity on our campus. This task force will allow our students to feel safe on campus,” says Kamimura-Jiménez.

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