AB 540: Tuition Waiver Policy in California: How Student Services Professionals Influence College Access for Undocumented Students
This was an exploratory qualitative study utilizing tenets of phenomenology to examine the lived experiences of front-line student services professionals in Admissions and Financial Aid and their dilemmas in interpreting and implementing California Assembly Bill 540 (2001) in their interactions with undocumented students. Front-line student services professionals are often the make-it or break-it persons for undocumented students to realize their dreams of attaining a postsecondary education because they determine whether students can pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid. California law AB 540 (2001) was created with the intention of providing a fair tuition policy for all California high school graduates entering college in California. AB 540’s (2001) purpose is to allow all California high school graduates, including undocumented immigrant students who meet the requirements, to be exempt from paying nonresident tuition at California public postsecondary institutions. An undocumented student is classified as someone who entered the U.S. without proper immigration documents or someone who entered the country legally as a nonimmigrant but later never exited the country (Internal Revenue Service, 2014). Twelve student service professionals, both part-time and full-time, at public two-year and four-year higher education institutions shared their experiences regarding management of difficult and sensitive conversations with undocumented students, as they attempted to translate state legislation through institutional polices. Many times, these front-line professionals in Admissions and Financial Aid were the first and only people to interact with incoming undocumented students before they set foot in the classroom. These professionals utilized their knowledge, resources, and networks to help students navigate the college-going process. However, unclear and/or non-existent campus policies, departmental silos, along with a lack of professional development, adequate resources, and appropriate guidance, often limited their capacity to help.