PLEASANT HILL -- Community colleges are known for serving students of all ages and from various walks of life.

And in recent years, Contra Costa Community College District officials have sought to extend that net of support to the area's undocumented immigrant students.

The district, partnering with United Latino Voices, is hosting a conference Saturday at Diablo Valley College for undocumented high school and college students, parents and others to learn about opportunities and resources available.

"We want to send the message that the college is a supportive, affirming and caring place for all of our students," said Emily Stone, DVC's dean of student support services.

"The college has so many resources, and there's been so much going on, that it's important for people to know that education isn't a dream," added Mario Alvarado, a DVC student and planner for the event.

The fourth annual AB 540 "More than a Dream: Get the Facts" event, will include a panel discussion by undocumented students, a resource fair and community "breakout" sessions that discuss college resources, legal services, personal motivation and parent resources.

Assembly Bill 540, passed in 2001, created an exemption for undocumented students to allow them to pay in-state tuition for college, provided they meet criteria that includes attending high school in California for three years and received a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Since the district started holding the conferences, the landscape around the issue has changed. The California DREAM Act was passed in 2011, which allows undocumented students to attend college and be eligible to receive state grant assistance and fee waivers. Also, more community partners are offering resources, Stone said.

"(Saturday's) conference is to make sure that students have the facts, and know the support is available," Stone said.

Each year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools across the country, but only about 10 to 20 percent enroll in colleges or universities, according to the district.

Alvarado, 21, of Concord, says that there a is "fear factor" of the unknown that comes with being an undocumented student.

"You're always on a rocky foundation, because you don't know if this life you've created could be gone," said Alvarado, who moved from Guatemala to the United States at age 8.

The Bay Area tends to be progressive when it comes to undocumented immigrant issues, but more so in San Francisco and Oakland than the Contra Costa area, said Cesar Cruz, the conference's keynote speaker.

"A lot of young adults and students are in the shadows, even though it's a national movement," said Cruz, co-founder of the Oakland-based Homies Empowerment Program and now in his first year as a Harvard doctoral student.

Community college is ideal for offering affordable higher education opportunities, as well as providing social and emotional needs, Cruz said.

The diversity of the college and several campus groups helped Alvarado, who is anxiously waiting to hear back from UC schools about a transfer.

At DVC, a task force was created two years ago to find ways to reach out to students, which has led to creation of a resource guide. Future plans call for having small focus groups to understand ways to engage undocumented students.

There will also be an opportunity for folks to meet with a lawyer and law student volunteers for free assistance with immigration and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications, officials said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

IF YOU GO
What: AB 540 "More than a Dream" conference
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Diablo Valley College, Performing Arts Center, 321 Golf Club Road, Pleasant Hill
Cost: Free
More information: Registration is confidential and available through the DVC website, www.dvc.edu/events; click on the Butterfly logo. Walk-ins are also welcome.