Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUCLA

Making Meaning of the Dream: Understanding how Latina/o AB540 Community College Students are Accessing and Navigating the California Dream Act


The lives of "undocumented" college students are continuously in flux with the ever-changing policies in both education and immigration. These students have constantly accessed new information and navigated new policy on their campuses. The ways in which they do this and the type of student support that is needed has been a topic of recent research on undocumented students, particularly those in California, where the majority of undocumented students reside. Since 1985, California has been creating educational policies that address "in-state" residency requirement and access to state financial aid. Through Leticia v. UC Regents (1985) undocumented students were allowed to receive state financial aid and were viewed as state residents within the state's public colleges. This decision was appealed in 1990 and from 1990 to 2001, students were viewed as foreign students and had to pay out of state fees. In 2001, AB540 was passed allowing undocumented students, who graduated from a California high school and met other criteria, to be enrolled as state residents. However, AB540 did not allow students access to state financial aid, such as the Board of Governor's Fee Waiver, Cal Grants or access to state funded programs.

In 2012, California's public universities and colleges implemented a new educational policy AB130 and AB131, known as the California Dream Act. The policy provided eligibility for state funded financial aid, programs, and scholarships to AB540 students. The policy was estimated to affect 26,000 AB540 college students, with the majority of those students being Latina/o community college students. Since its onset, there have been over 29,000 AB540 students, from all public systems (UC, CSU, CCC), submitting California Dream Act applications. The data for 2013-2014 indicated that only 25% of those students received a Cal Grant, with the majority of the applications being those that recently graduated high school. Past studies have suggested that with the AB540 policy there was a discrepancy between the number of eligible students and those that filed an AB540 affidavit. It was possible that this would reoccur with the California Dream Act.

The 12 Latina/o AB540 students' recounted their personal journeys through the process. The interviews revealed, "missed opportunities" in receiving vital financial aid information, which led to 11 of the 12 students not receiving a Cal Grant through the new policy. Due to their past experiences with the financial aid office and other campus staff, the students relied on their AB540 peers, siblings, and or local community agencies that were known advocates for immigration rights. Policy agents in the study described a loosely coupled system that did not allow for information on the policy to be distributed, which in turn hindered the success of the policy because information was limited to a few people and the responsibility to implement the policy fell solely on the financial aid office.

This research and findings from this case study were significant because they presented new research on a new state educational policy and presented new findings on the way Latina/o AB540 community college students were accessing information and navigating policy on campus. The results suggest that the ways students made meaning of the policy and their experiences on campus affected their application process; additionally, policy agents who implemented the policy on campus were creating unnecessary obstacles for AB540 students.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View