Financial aid application on a desk. Student loan.

DeKALB — Transgender and undocumented students who are Illinois residents are now eligible to apply for scholarships, grants, awards, free room and board and other kinds of financial assistance from the state.

The Retention of Illinois Students and Equity Act is one of 250 laws that went into effect in Illinois at the start of January. It grants more financial aid access to students ineligible for aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program.

FAFSA gives students access to “the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school,” according to FAFSA. Many schools, including NIU, use a student’s FAFSA to determine eligibility for the kind of state and federal aid they can receive.

The law allows qualified transgender and undocumented students to apply for state aid using an alternative application which can be completed at

Transgender students are not eligible to apply for federal aid through the FASFA program if they do not register for the Selective Service, which requires all men age 18 to 25 to register for a military draft, according to FAFSA.

Transgender students using this application, however, do not have to register for the Selective Service to qualify for state aid. They will continue to be ineligible for federal aid, according to NIU’s website.

Undocumented students using the application must meet certain criteria, including residing with a parent or legal guardian while attending a public or private high school in Illinois and graduating from a private or public high school in Illinois.

Undocumented students are not eligible to apply if they aren’t a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. Before the law, undocumented students had to pay all college costs out of pocket or with privately funded scholarships, Sandy López, coordinator for the undocumented student support office, said.

“At NIU, we are fortunate to have donors who have created a scholarship fund to help undocumented students; however, the funds do not cover all of the students who need assistance with their tuition,” López said.

Transgender and undocumented students are likely to be dependent on financial aid programs due to a lack of financial support, Amanda Littauer, associate professor at the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, said.

“They also face unique forms of stress that come from navigating institutions and systems that weren’t created to serve students like them, and financial burdens only exacerbate that stress and anxiety,” Littauer said.

Transgender and undocumented students deserve the same kind of financial opportunities that other students have, she said.

“These students are part of the NIU community, but unless they have access to the full range of options for funding their education, they face discriminatory and alienating barriers to full participation here,” Littauer said. “I am relieved that at least one kind of barrier is coming down and celebrate the work of the students, staff, activists, and policymakers who created this important change.”

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