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The REAL Hope Act: What does it mean for students?

On Feb. 18,the Washington State House of Representatives passed the local version of the DREAM Act, the REAL Hope Act. The REAL Hope Act, also known as Senate Bill 6523, will allow students who were brought to Washington State illegally as children access to college financial aid.  The vote passed the House 77-22. Every Washington State Democrat voted for the bill, while the Republican vote was split down the middle.  Despite bipartisan support for the Real Hope Act, there are aspects of this bill that some might consider controversial.

The REAL Hope Act adds to the list of students eligible for the State Need Grant (SNG).  The State Need Grant provides funds for students in the lowest income brackets.  Last year there were approximately 32,000 low-income students of legal residence eligible for State Need Grant funds.  For many Republicans, the number of legal residents already in need was cited as one of the key reasons why they did not vote for the bill.  According to an email from Senator Ann Rivers, “It seemed to me that this bill was actually a punishment for those who played by the rules and that I can’t abide.”

Another concern related to the passage of the REAL Hope Act is who is specifically eligible to receive college funding under the new policy? Currently as the bill is worded, in order to be eligible, students  must have “completed the full senior year of high school and obtained a high school diploma… or a person that has received the equivalent of a diploma; who has lived in Washington State for at least three years immediately before receiving the diploma or its equivalent; who has continuously lived in the state of Washington after receiving the diploma or its equivalent and until such time as they individual is admitted to an eligible institution of higher education, and has been differed action for childhood arrival status pursuant to the rules and regulations adopted by the United States citizenship and immigration services.”  In layman’s terms: students must have been brought to Washington State as a minor, lived in Washington for at least three years and have graduated from high school.

Some Washington state politicians feel these standards are too loose and think that this will open SNG accessibility to everyone. Republican Representative Mark Hargrove said “Right now the tax payers are on the hook for 6.6 million people.  If this passes they are the hook for 7 billion people.”  However, according to proponents, the REAL Hope Act is an important milestone for both immigration and education reform.

While Washington State politicians have come to an agreement about the REAL Hope Act, what does the bill mean for college students in Washington State? Students at the Washington State University Vancouver campus may not be aware of the REAL Hope Act, or how it will affect their own financial aid eligibility. According to WSU Vancouver Financial Aid and Scholarships counselor Abril Hunt, “we’re just in a wait and see mode right now.” As to how many WSU Vancouver students will directly benefit because of the REAL Hope Act, Hunt could not comment for certain.

When approached about their opinion on the REAL Hope Act, some students did not wish to comment, while others were supportive of the bill. WSU Vancouver student Evan Moodie said, “If we’re a nation built on immigrants then we need to respect that and allow people to come in here even if they’re illegal and they come here as children they still need to be taken care of I think it’s a responsible bill.”

While opinions about the benefits and drawbacks of the REAL Hope Act differ, its impact on Washington universities and other respective issues have yet to surface. For more information about the REAL Hope Act, students are encouraged to visit the Washington State Legislature’s web site at leg.wa.gov.

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