Undocumented Students Needs More Options for Higher Education

One of my favorite things to do in my free time is work with New York City high school students on their college admission essays. I’ve been inspired by so many of my students’ stories and what incredible writers they are at such a young age. One of the very first students I worked with was hesitant to share the topic for her essay, but after we started talking, she revealed that she was an undocumented student. While she was incredibly eager to go to college, she was also extremely worried about how she would navigate admission as a undocumented student and further how she would come up with the money to pay for school since she wasn’t eligible for financial aid.

Unfortunately this is a reality for thousands of students across the United States. In fact, every year 65,000 of the 1.4 million undocumented students who have lived in the U.S. for five or more years graduate from high school. Of these, only 7,000 to 13,000 students enroll in college which works out to only 5-10 percent of undocumented high school graduates going on to pursue college.

Why are so few undocumented students going on to college?

One of the many barriers undocumented students face in seeking higher education is the fact that they are not eligible for federal financial aid and many states do not offer in-state tuition rates for these students. Furthermore, undocumented students come from families that experience poverty at twice the rate of students with parents born in the U.S.†Without any means to legalize their status, many of the parents of undocumented students cannot work legally — and neither can their children — making saving for college incredibly hard.

Luckily, there are a handful of colleges that are taking matters into their own hands. At Loyola University Chicago, the student body has rallied to help bring their undocumented peers to their school. A recent referendum that would increase semester fees by $2.50 and use this money for a scholarship fund for undocumented students who cannot receive state or federal financial aid was approved by 70 percent of the student body. The idea was developed by the Latin American Student Organization and the school’s Student Government, which gave dozens of classroom presentations about their project and collected over 750 signatures to get their initiative on the ballot. The increase would amount to more than $50,000 a year that would go towards what they have named the Magis Scholars Fund. Magis means “more” in Latin signifying that this initiative is a way the university can do more for these students.

Another school that is taking a stand is Tufts University; the school†is now offering financial aid to eligible undergraduate students.†The school’s new policy would treat undocumented students as regular domestic applicants and give them the same university aid as U.S. citizens. The school is also forming a group to discuss ways to encourage more undocumented students to apply.

New York University has launched its†own program to offer undocumented students financial aid, and Emory University has also announced it will provide financial aid for these students. In Indiana, Wabash College and Holy Cross College†will now enroll three undocumented students from Chicago offering aid that covers the majority of their tuition.

At the federal level there’s of course the Dream Act (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) which would allow undocumented students to apply for legal status and eventually citizenship if they went to college or served in the military. According to estimates the Dream Act would provide 360,000 undocumented high school graduates with a legal means to work and have access to financial resources for college. Introduced in 2001, the Dream Act has not passed federally but as of 2013 there are 15 states that have passed their own versions of the bill including†Texas, California, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon.†

When I think about these issues, I can’t help but go back to the student I met last year who struggled to tell me about her undocumented status. Not being able to attend college would be such a waste for such an intelligent and ambitious young woman who expressed to me often how she wanted to set an example for her younger siblings. There are thousands of undocumented students just like her who graduate high school every year and are uncertain of their future but desperately want to pursue an education to build a better life for themselves. Graduating from high school should be an exciting time full of possibilities. Let’s make that the case for all students — not just those born in the Unites States.

Photo Credit: US Department of Education

74 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

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Kira W.
Kira W1 years ago

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Morny M2 years ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

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Stardust Noel
Past Member 3 years ago

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