College Guide For Undocumented Students

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An estimated 65,000 undocumented students are graduating from U.S. high schools annually, according to College Board. While undocumented immigrants are ensured an education in U.S. public schools, they face legal and financial barriers with higher education. This results in less than 10% continuing to college. However, higher education is not out of reach. This guide will walk you through everything from the admissions process and financial aid to knowing your rights and overcoming barriers.

Admission

Undocumented students can apply to and attend both public and private U.S. colleges. That being said, some colleges have specific policies on admitting undocumented students.

  • College Policies: Colleges have their own policies on admitting undocumented students. Some will enroll them, some will not, and others will but as an international student. While some states will not admit undocumented students into community or public schools, private schools in the same states will. Being limited to private schools makes things challenging since public universities tend to be more affordable.

At least 7 state university systems have policies to offer in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrant students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

  • The University of Hawaii Board of Regents
  • Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
  • University of Maine Board of Trustees
  • University of Michigan Board of Regents
  • Ohio Board of Regents
  • Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
  • Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education
  • States Laws: Policies on admitting undocumented students vary state by state. The ability to receive state-based financial aid and to pay in-state tuition is also state-dependent. A state’s policy towards undocumented students can be telling of the environment and culture you might find there.

2 states prohibit undocumented students from enrolling at any public postsecondary institution, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

  • Alabama
  • South Carolina

There are hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients in the U.S. The future of DACA is uncertain and the termination of it could mean the end of deferred action for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.

Tuition And Financial Aid

While getting into college is a great accomplishment, it is only the first step. Finding a way to pay for tuition can be just as challenging. States and schools have different policies that can change. Here are a few facts and resources that will help you understand various forms of financial aid and which states offer in-state tuition and state financial aid.

  1. Federal Financial Aid: Legally, undocumented students generally cannot receive federal financial aid, which includes loans, grants, scholarships, work-study money, and FAFSA.

  2. Financial Aid Counselors: Most colleges and universities have a financial aid office or financial aid counselors. These counselors are legally not allowed to ask about a student’s status. If they do know about a student’s status, they are not mandated to report them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Financial aid offices and counselors are there to help ALL students.

  3. Free Application for Federal Students Aid (FAFSA): For DACA students, filling out your FAFSA could help determine eligibility for other forms of financial aid. There is a debate on whether or not you should submit a FAFSA. Many undocumented students choose not to fill out this form online because they do not want the federal government to have their information. Instead, they print out a FAFSA form online and send it to their schools so that the institution can see if they are eligible for aid without them having to send it to the government. Studentaid.gov has a great resource page that has information on student financial aid and completing the FAFSA form for undocumented students who have received DACA.

  4. Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN): An ITIN is a tax processing number issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You can learn more about an ITIN, why undocumented immigrants need one, what you need to apply for one, and more at the National Immigration Law Center. Students can benefit from having an ITIN.

  5. International Students: Some institutions will consider undocumented students as international students. When this happens, these students are no longer eligible for state aid or lower tuition provided to state residents regardless of if they have lived there all their life.

  6. In State Tuition and Financial Aid: At least 19 states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates and at least 3 do not, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. You can visit their site to see a more comprehensive list of tuition benefits for immigrants. Here are the statistics broken down.

    • In-State Tuition: At least 17 states offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

      • Arkansas
      • California
      • Colorado
      • Connecticut
      • Florida
      • Illinois
      • Kansas
      • Maryland/span>
      • Minnesota
      • New Jersey
      • New Mexico
      • New York
      • Oregon
      • Texas
      • Utah
      • Washington
    • In-State Tuition Through Board Of Regents: At least 2 states offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students through Board of Regents decisions.

      • Oklahoma
      • Rhode Island
    • No In-State Tuition: At least 3 states do not allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition rates.

      • Arizona
      • Georgia
      • Indiana
    • State Financial Aid: At least 7 states offer state financial aid to undocumented students

      • California
      • Colorado
      • Minnesota
      • New Mexico
      • Oregon
      • Texas
      • Washington
    • In-State Tuition And State Financial Aid: At least 6 states provide both in-state tuition rates and access to state financial aid.

      • California
      • Minnesota
      • New Mexico
      • Oregon
      • Texas
      • Washington

Scholarships for Undocumented Students

Scholarships can be a great way to help subsidize your tuition and other school expenses. The following scholarships do not inquire about immigration status.

Ascend Education Fund (AEF)

“Ascend Educational Fund awards scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to immigrant students and children of immigrants who are graduating from a New York City high school to attend public or private colleges and universities, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status.”

Coke College Scholarship Program

The Coke Scholarship Program is for high school seniors with financial need looking to attend a four-year college or university. This scholarship includes up to $40,000 a year and personal advising about college selection, financial aid, and how to transition to college.

College Prep Scholars Program

This program provides high school juniors from low-income backgrounds with the knowledge, confidence, and resources to apply to top colleges. They offer full scholarships to college summer programs, guidance and resources for the college application process, access to an online community, admissions mentoring from Amherst College students, personalized college essay feedback, and more.

Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas (COFEM)

COFEM has helped more than 400 immigrants, children of immigrants, and AB-540 or DACA students complete their higher education. They award scholarships of $500 to Community College students and $1,000 to undergraduate students attending four-year colleges or universities.

Momeni Foundation Financial Assistance Scholarship

“This scholarship is for graduating high school seniors and current college students who are of Iranian descent. To qualify for this scholarship, applicants must have a 3.0 GPA. Scholarships are available regardless of citizenship or country of residency. All students at undergraduate, graduate, or PhD levels may apply. Students planning to attend or attending universities in Iran are encouraged to apply for these scholarships.”

TheDream.US Scholarships

TheDream.US offers two scholarships for motivated DREAMers. They offer The National Scholarship for highs school or community college graduates and The Opportunity scholarship for students who live in states where they cannot get in-state tuition. Eligibility is based on where you live. These scholarships are from DREAMers with unmet financial need who demonstrate a commitment to community service and the ability to overcome the barriers and challenges that DREAMers face every day.

The Esperanza Educational Fund

The Esperanza Educational Fund: To qualify for this scholarship, you must be born outside the U.S. or have two parents born outside the U.S. The scholarship ranges from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on financial need. Applicants are chosen based on qualities valued and demonstrated by the immigrant community like hard work, perseverance in the face of adversity, and leadership.

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund College Scholarship

This scholarship assists students of Hispanic heritage in getting a higher education. It is available for graduating high school seniors, community college transfer students, undergraduate students, and graduate students.

DACA recipients come from nearly 150 countries from around the globe.

Know Your Rights

Knowing about laws that impact undocumented students is important and will help you protect your status and defend yourself if needed. Here are a few things that you should know about as well as several helpful resources.

  • American Immigration Lawyers Associate (AILA): AILA has a page that outlines protections for Dreamers and TPS recipients. AILA has sections of legislative efforts to protect Dreamers, government announcements and memos, litigation challenging DACA rescission, and more.

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): This immigration policy allows some individuals who came to the U.S. as children to receive a two-year renewable period of deferred action. While deferred action does not provide lawful status, it does make individuals eligible for work authorization and allows them to apply to public colleges or universities regardless of state laws. The Department of Homeland Security has a resource page that outlines DACA eligibility, the application process, fee exemptions, travel information, and more. DACA is currently in a legal limbo leaving many in vulnerable positions. Consider looking through the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association’s page on what you need to know about the end of DACA. The temporary legal status of DACA recipients, allows them to apply to public colleges or university regardless of state laws.

  • Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act): Members of Congress are trying to pass this bill, which was introduced in 2001. This proposal would grant qualifying immigrants who came to the U.S. as children residency status.

  • Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA): This federal law protects the privacy of student education records, making it so that schools cannot release them without the student’s permission. There are exceptions to this rule. The U.S. Department of Education administered FERPA has a page that explains the law in more detail.

  • Filing Immigration Enforcement Civil Rights Complaints: The National Immigration Law Center has a page that discusses filing this kind of complaint for violations of the “sensitive locations” policy at or near schools. Immigration enforcement activities are to be avoided at “sensitive locations” which include all schools. The page also has a downloadable complaint form that can be used to complain about local law enforcement or immigration officials violating the “sensitive locations” memos.

  • Immigration Legal Intake Service: Immigrants Rising has an online survey to help undocumented young people learn about possible immigration options. The survey is free, anonymous, and confidential.

  • National Immigration Law Center (NILC): NILC is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of immigrants with low income. They have specific pages for DACA and education and have an online directory of providers of legal services for immigrants with low income.

  • Right to K-12: All students have the right to attend public K-12 schools in the U.S. regardless of their immigration status. School personnel for K-12 cannot ask or inquire about a student’s or their family’s immigration status.

  • Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF): MALFEF is a Latino legal civil right organization that is committed to protecting and defending the rights of Latinos living in the U.S. and the constitutional rights of all Americans. They have a resource page which includes scholarship and leadership programs, and helpful publications.

  • National Immigration Legal Services Directory: Immigration Advocates Network has a directory where you can enter your zip code, state, county, or detention facility, and find immigration legal services providers. Their directory only consists of nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration legal services.

  • Temporary Legal Status The U.S. Department of State has a student visa page. Enrolling college students can get a student visa. Unfortunately, there is no telling what the future holds for dreamers.

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Finding Support

Colleges and universities can be stressful and challenging, and finding support can be incredibly beneficial. Here are five resources that will help you find support while in school.

  1. Mental Health Connector: Immigrants Rising has a mental health connector that provides undocumented youth with psychological support. Their experienced and culturally responsive mental health therapists provide free and confidential services. Services are available to all undocumented young people residing in California and who are comfortable conversing in English.

  2. UndocuUndergrads National Network: My Undocumented Life created this network, which is comprised of undergraduate and high school students planning on attending college. You can connect with fellow, prospective, current, and former undocumented college students across the country. A lot of helpful information is shared in the network, including scholarships, internships, programs, and much more.

  3. NYSYLC: The NYSYLC is the first undocumented youth-led organization in New York. They strive to empower immigrant youth through leadership development, grassroots organizing educational advancement, and self-expression. They give undocumented youth the tools and space they need to organize and create change in their communities.

  4. United We Dream: United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country, made up of over 400,000 members. They create welcoming spaces for all young people, regardless of immigration status. They empower individuals to develop leadership and organizational skills and to develop campaigns to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants and all people.

  5. University support network: Many colleges and universities have a center for undocumented students, clubs, and other student groups. Students can find a supportive community and a safe environment in these spaces. Universities also offer academic, career, and personal counseling that students can take advantage of.

Advocacy

The following groups across the United States that are fighting to make higher education accessible for undocumented immigrants.

  • American Immigration Council: The American Immigration Council works towards a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection.

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): This immigration policy allows some individuals who came to the U.S. as children to receive a two-year renewable period of deferred action. While deferred action does not provide lawful status, it does make individuals eligible for work authorization and allows them to apply to public colleges or universities regardless of state laws. The Department of Homeland Security has a resource page that outlines DACA eligibility, the application process, fee exemptions, travel information, and more. DACA is currently in a legal limbo leaving many in vulnerable positions. Consider looking through the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association’s page on what you need to know about the end of DACA. The temporary legal status of DACA recipients, allows them to apply to public colleges or university regardless of state laws.

  • Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act): Members of Congress are trying to pass this bill, which was introduced in 2001. This proposal would grant qualifying immigrants who came to the U.S. as children residency status.

  • Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA): This federal law protects the privacy of student education records, making it so that schools cannot release them without the student’s permission. There are exceptions to this rule. The U.S. Department of Education administered FERPA has a page that explains the law in more detail.

  • Filing Immigration Enforcement Civil Rights Complaints: The National Immigration Law Center has a page that discusses filing this kind of complaint for violations of the “sensitive locations” policy at or near schools. Immigration enforcement activities are to be avoided at “sensitive locations” which include all schools. The page also has a downloadable complaint form that can be used to complain about local law enforcement or immigration officials violating the “sensitive locations” memos.

  • Immigration Legal Intake Service: Immigrants Rising has an online survey to help undocumented young people learn about possible immigration options. The survey is free, anonymous, and confidential.

  • National Immigration Law Center (NILC): NILC is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of immigrants with low income. They have specific pages for DACA and education and have an online directory of providers of legal services for immigrants with low income.

  • Right to K-12: All students have the right to attend public K-12 schools in the U.S. regardless of their immigration status. School personnel for K-12 cannot ask or inquire about a student’s or their family’s immigration status.

  • Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF): MALFEF is a Latino legal civil right organization that is committed to protecting and defending the rights of Latinos living in the U.S. and the constitutional rights of all Americans. They have a resource page which includes scholarship and leadership programs, and helpful publications.

  • National Immigration Legal Services Directory: Immigration Advocates Network has a directory where you can enter your zip code, state, county, or detention facility, and find immigration legal services providers. Their directory only consists of nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration legal services.

  • Temporary Legal Status The U.S. Department of State has a student visa page. Enrolling college students can get a student visa. Unfortunately, there is no telling what the future holds for dreamers.

Devon Feuer
Devon Feuer
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