UCLA student Yesenia Capellino voices support for the DREAM Act, which… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
Many Californians worry that they are being priced out of the state's public university systems, and they object to allowing illegal immigrants the same financial aid that U.S. citizens can receive at the campuses, a new poll has found.
Fifty-five percent of the voters questioned said they oppose a new state law known as the California DREAM Act. It will permit undocumented students who graduated from California high schools and meet other requirements to receive taxpayer aid to attend the University of California, Cal State and community colleges starting in 2013. Forty percent support it.
But there is a huge ethnic divide on the issue, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey: 79% of Latinos approve of the law, while only 30% of whites do.
"There are not a lot of other issues on which there are such huge differences," said Manuel Pastor, a USC professor of American studies and ethnicity.
Partly, he said, it's easier for many Latinos, because they may know more undocumented people, to "understand the potential of someone who lacks papers but can really contribute to America."
But there are pocketbook factors too, especially in rough economic times, said Pastor, director of USC's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. The poll shows that more Latinos than whites feel they may be unable to afford a university education; they may be more likely to support aid for all needy students, he said.
The bipartisan survey found that a narrow majority of registered Democrats, 53%, support the new policy, which was signed into law last month by a fellow Democrat, Gov. Jerry Brown. But only 23% of Republicans do.
"I don't think illegal aliens should have any benefits in this country," said respondent Lois Hartman, 64, a Republican who is a retired database supervisor from Downey.
As for arguments that many students were brought to the U.S. as babies and had no choice about where they were raised, she said, "Their parents should have thought about that. I don't have any sympathy for them."
On the other hand, Andrew Haesloop, 25, a Democrat from San Carlos, supports the DREAM Act. Its costs ultimately will be offset, he reasoned, by the higher taxes paid by students who land better jobs because they had the opportunity for a college education.
"It's a benefit that could encourage these people to become contributing members of society," said Haesloop, an admissions counselor at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.
A decade of tuition increases, including two this year at the 10 University of California and 23 Cal State campuses, has clearly taken a toll. The poll found that 49% of voters consider the universities not very affordable or not at all affordable, compared with 41% who say they are very or somewhat affordable. Fifty-two percent of Latinos said they are concerned about the cost, compared with 48% of whites.
Opinions are harsher among potential bill-payers: 53% of parents or grandparents living with children younger than 18 and 57% of people between the ages of 19 and 29 find the universities somewhat or entirely out of reach.
"I think they are very expensive overall," said Eric Medin, 18, who decided to save money by first enrolling at a community college. He hopes to transfer to UCLA and commute to Westwood from his family home in Calabasas to keep costs down.
"If you look at the total cost and all the loans you might have to pay," said Medin, who works so he can save for tuition, "I feel it would be very problematic."
The UC and Cal State systems say their schools are still good deals and note that they provide hefty financial aid to students. Cal State tuition and fees total $6,521 annually, not including room and board — below the $7,186 national average for similar master's degree campuses, according to a recent survey by the College Board. UC's tuition and fees are about $13,200 this year, above the national average of $9,185 for doctorate-granting institutions.
The poll did yield some good news for higher education in California. A majority of respondents, 55%, view UC and Cal State favorably overall. Only 25% have an unfavorable impression of UC and 27% look askance at Cal State.
The survey was conducted for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and The Times by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, with American Viewpoint, a Republican company. They polled 1,500 registered California voters Oct. 30 through Nov. 9. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.52 percentage points.
Many of the results reflect similar attitudes found in a survey issued this week by the Public Policy Institute of California, a San Francisco think tank.