Undocumented Students Still Have Limited Access to Higher Education
Across the United States, undocumented students do not have equitable access to higher education. While some laws governing education equity must be legislated at the state and federal levels, including eligibility for in-state tuition or the ability of undocumented students to access financial aid, there are many actions individual institutions can take to improve undocumented students’ ability to matriculate on their campuses.
1. Create a resource webpage dedicated to undocumented students
- Colleges and universities should clearly articulate that undocumented students are welcome on campus and outline campus resources available to undocumented students. Some resources may include:
- Any existing student centers or groups focused on undocumented students or students from mixed-status families
- Access to mental health support
- Free legal support or access to immigration attorneys
- Financial support in paying for DACA renewals or other immigration fees
- Institutions should also try to answer undocumented prospective students’ frequently asked questions, such as:
- What is the college or university’s policy on admitting undocumented students?
- Are undocumented students eligible for financial aid?
- How does the college or university keep my information safe?
For some examples check out the Undocumented/DACA FAQs from Guilford College and the Undocumented Student Program at UCLA.
2. Make sure undocumented students are not classified as international students during the admissions process.
- This causes unnecessary logistical complications when it comes to processes like accessing in-state tuition or financial aid. Undocumented students also don’t need the same orientation sessions typically organized for international students as they do not go through the same immigration processes. Furthermore, most undocumented students have grown up in the United States, and do not require the same introduction to U.S. culture that international students experience during orientation. Classifying undocumented students as international students could also put them at risk of being “outed” if they have to explain themselves over and over to people who think they are international students.
3. Open up institutional financial aid and scholarships to all students regardless of citizenship status.
- Because undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid and rarely qualify for state aid, institutional aid is one of the few financial support options available to them. Consider setting aside extra funds for undocumented students who are forced to compete with hundreds of thousands of their undocumented peers for the limited amount of scholarship funds for which they all qualify. Another option is to endow a scholarship specifically for undocumented students.
- At all institutions, deans, counselors, and staff at undocumented student/“Dream” centers should proactively disseminate vital scholarship information to undocumented students on campus.
- Private colleges should consider providing need-based aid to undocumented students derived from unrestricted funds and private donations.
Undocumented Students Have Unique Needs
Frequently, undocumented students on campuses are supported by college or university staff from multicultural or diversity centers who do not have any specified knowledge about the realities undocumented students face. While undocumented students may be first-generation, Black, AAPI, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, and/or low-income; their undocumented status presents unique challenges that require dedicated support.
1. Hire or designate a staff member to serve as an undocumented student coordinator.
- Staff hired to support undocumented students can help them navigate the resources available on campus and support their success in achieving their degrees. It’s important for this role to be filled by someone who is knowledgeable about undocumented students’ reality and can relate to the insecurities they or their families might experience, help them navigate legal support, and help them understand how the changing political environment will impact them.
2. Commit to supporting the legal and financial needs of students applying for DACA or seeking to adjust their immigration status.
- Designate funds to pay for students’ DACA applications, DACA renewals, or other immigration fees. Make sure students know what immigration fees their school will cover and create a simple process for them to access those funds.
- Provide free legal support to undocumented students and students with undocumented parents by partnering with your institution’s law school or legal clinics, or develop partnerships with local nonprofits and immigration attorneys.