Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., more than a million of them are now college-aged but arrived as children. They have been educated in the U.S. , and many aspire to go to college. While current restrictions prevent them from accessing federal financial aid and in-state tuition rates, there are efforts to help level the playing field. During the mark-up process of S. 744, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amendment from Sen. Mazie Hirono to allow undocumented immigrants with registered provisional immigrant status to qualify for certain types of financial aid. The original version of the amendment, Hirono 21, included all forms of tuition assistance, but the committee approved a second degree amendment Hirono offered that limits it to specific federal student loans and work-study programs, not Pell Grants. At the same time, several states are taking steps to allow undocumented immigrants living in that state to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities instead of requiring them to pay out-of-state rates. The costs of college can make the different between attending or not. Some also argue giving any access to college or financial aid to undocumented students is unfair to other college students.

Are these steps that provide more equal access to some forms financial aid and in-state tuition (in some states) a good idea?  

Can we afford not to educate thousands of kids on their way to citizenship?

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  • Cristian

    The financial aid system our country currently has is already skewed. Even though I have been fortunate enough to earn a scholarship for the university I attended, I also received extra grants due to the economic status of my family, who made little compared to the rest of Corporate America. When asking friends how they paid for college, they seemed a little turned off to know that they weren’t given as much grants as I had, only because their parents made more money than mine. It turns out, the poorer a family is, the more money they would receive for higher education.

    In the case of undocumented students who want to attend an institution of higher learning, many have to first pass the hurdle of being accepted to ANY school due to their status. When that task is an accomplishment, they’re presented another road block for tuition. The university I attended luckily provided access to allow undocumented students to learn from their classes, however they had to pay out-of-state tuition, which reached close to $13,000 a semester (compared to about $4,500 a semester for in-state students). This fee seemed impossible to pay for some since obtaining a job was already a struggle, once again, due to their status. Financial aid from the government wasn’t granted because of their undocumented status. Many of these students had lived in-state for the majority of their elementary, middle, or high school careers, and to be considered out-of-state students was confusing. Nonetheless, with the current law, there was no way to beat the system.

    I feel like there needs to be a change with the tuition system for all universities and colleges IN GENERAL. However, in the context of undocumented students, there needs to be an even more drastic change. While it would be unfair to give any and all students who have undocumented status “in-state” fees, there needs to be a change with those who have lived in state for a good amount of their education before high school graduation. If a student indeed is out-of-state, whether they are undocumented or not, then out-out-state payment would still remain underway. If the student is in-state and undocumented, then college officials would have to determine how long an appropriate time would be to allow these students access for in-state rates. They would set a length of time as a rule for students having to be within the country and learning in a school IN-STATE to get granted in-state payments. Of course, they would have to meet all other qualifications to be accepted as a college student, but as far as tuition, it seriously deters many from attending.

    The path to citizenship would be a huge accomplishment once inserted in the new immigration bill, but what’s the citizenship status without access to higher education? Isn’t that what most of the people opposed complain about, that those who are crossing the country lines “illegally” are free-loaders? Not only are those accusations completely inaccurate and stereotyping, but many dream of achieving a college degree, but aren’t able to because of the high tuition rates.There needs to be more steps that provide EQUAL access in some forms of financial aid, and we CANNOT AFFORD to lose thousands of students to learn a wealth of knowledge at universities because of their status.

    • amandabeadle

      Cristian, you’re right on both points. The soaring cost of higher education, with students taking out thousands in loans to get a degree they may or may not use and scholarships that don’t always cover enough, is a huge problem the U.S. is going to have to face at some point soon. But that’s separate from the immigration issue. If undocumented students can’t even begin to access federal loans and in-state tuition rates, I’d say that automatically sets them up at a disadvantage.

      To your point about in-state tuition, the states allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition do have limitations on it, like making sure they’ve lived in the state for a certain length of time and graduated from a high school within the state. Lawmakers argue these are fair measures to help undocumented students go to college now that the state has already invested in their K-12 education, and I think that’s accurate.

      Yes, it’d be better if students could access the full slate of financial aid options, like Pell Grants, and not be charged higher rates at a public college in a state where they’ve likely been living for years, but these are steps in the right direction. It’s great that the measures are included in the bill, and I hope Congress keeps building on it.

      Another idea to help at the individual university level is merit scholarships. I went to a large state university that provided hefty scholarships to students who got a certain high score on the ACT — it was a huge recruitment effort for them to get students from out of state to come there. Because these scholarships were merit-based and (to the best of my knowledge from the application process) students didn’t need social security numbers to apply, I knew a few undocumented immigrants who went there from out of state because the generous scholarships based on their ACT scores made college affordable for them.

  • amandabeadle

    In addition to the questions about financing college, the data overwhelmingly shows that people who have a college degree have better job and salary prospects. And according to The Atlantic, a new report shows that even a few years of college without earning a degree are better than none: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/06/is-going-to-college-still-worth-it-if-you-drop-out/276757/ But if the cost barriers to college are too high for immigrants because of being ineligible for in-state tuition, then they can’t attend college and improve their job prospects.