Undocumented Immigrants Hoping to Boost Higher Ed Access


Earlier this year, President Barack Obama unveiled the “America’s College Promise” proposal that offers two years of community college education free for anyone willing to work for it.  More recently, he announced a new “Student Aid Bill of Rights” that would ensure all students have access to high-quality and affordable educations.

A number of undocumented students, as well as parents and policymakers, are asking for more access to affordable and high-quality education.  Obama’s proposals have made it clear that education is important for everyone in the country, including undocumented immigrants.

“We don’t expect anybody to be bound by the circumstances of their birth,” President Obama said in his speech outlining the plan. “And the way we deliver on that is making sure that our education system works on behalf of every person who lives here.”

Since then, the Center for American Progress has announced their College For All proposal, focusing more on making a college education attainable for all, not just through community colleges, but also by using public two- or four-year universities.  The plan would allow all students to attend these schools without having to pay upfront for tuition and fees.  The plan would also offer families an early guarantee of aid in addition to allowing them to repay loans through payroll withholding.  More generous aid and repayment options would also be offered.

Despite these proposals, millions of undocumented students are still battling a set of policies that make a postsecondary education unattainable for them.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that all students, regardless of immigration status, had the right to a K-12 education.  This decision does not, however, include higher education, which has created a situation where around 122,600 undocumented students are seniors in high schools across the country and uncertain about their futures.  It is estimated that only 2,000 of those will graduate from college with a degree.

A report recently released by UCLA discovered that 74% of undocumented students who leave the field of higher education do so due to financial difficulties.  These students are unable to qualify for federal financial aid, making it harder for them to afford the rising cost of higher education, writes Zenen Jaimes Pérez for The Huffington Post.

In an effort to fight back, at least 18 states have so far added provisions allowing undocumented students access to in-state tuition prices.  In addition, four states offer federal aid through state funding.

Texas was the first state to allow this legislation through the first-ever state DREAM Act.  Since the implementation of that legislation in 2007, the number of undocumented students has more than doubled in the state to reach over 20,000 students.

However, a number of legislators are looking to overturn the law, arguing that it is unfair to allow these students access to financial aid, or even to enroll in public colleges and universities to begin with.