Immigrant students see ‘Real Hope’ for financial aid now

The Seattle TimesMarch 2, 2014 

Ricardo Heredia has been plugging away at his bachelor’s degree for more than four years, taking breaks to work construction so he can earn enough to pay for another quarter of tuition.

But the 23-year-old business-administration major, whose family moved to the U.S. when he was 8 months old, hopes his fortunes will change this fall when Washington’s financial aid program for college students is extended to those who were illegally brought to the United States as children.

The Real Hope Act, signed into law last week by Gov. Jay Inslee, will extend State Need Grant (SNG) money to undocumented students like Heredia who are studying in the state’s public two- and four-year colleges, as well as many private in-state colleges. Seventy colleges and universities in all are part of the program.

Figuring out which of these students qualifies for grant aid — which does not need to be paid back — is a challenge, because the federal aid form known as the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, won’t work if the applicant is not a citizen. College financial-aid officers use FAFSA data to determine whether students are eligible for SNG.

So Washington will contract with a website developer to create a special financial-aid form to determine which students are eligible, said Rachelle Sharpe, director of student financial assistance for the Washington Student Achievement Council.

The 15-month contract is for an estimated $100,000, and the website is expected to be up and running in April.

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