Senior year signifies a special time for most high schoolers. Capping your secondary education generally accompanies all sorts of semi-curricular delights: proms, grad parties, senioritis — all indulgences granted for one-time, soon-to-be alumni. Unfortunately, for undocumented students in America, these final acts of youthful triumph are more often a somber swan song than a celebratory sendoff.
Each and every year, spates of well-qualified, hard-working kids miss the opportunity to attend college due to circumstances beyond their own control. That’s because in many parts of the country, undocumented students are ineligible for in-state tuition and financial aid. Select schools refuse to even consider undocumented applicants. Nominally, only an estimated 7,000 to 13,000 undocumented students are enrolled in a U.S. college, which is pretty alarming when placed in the context of an estimated 1.1 to 1.4 million undocumented students currently involved in some form of primary or secondary education.
CollegeBoard estimates that 65,000 undocumented individuals will graduate from high school this year. While U.S. law states that all children have a right to education from grades K-12, a good deal of these 65,000 will not be able to continue with their studies as a result of their citizenship status.
While some colleges and universities have developed their own intra-collegiate policies about the admittance of undocumented students, there is no federal law or state law that denies higher education from those without U.S. citizenship. Thus, the biggest problem facing undocumented students is matching the soaring price of college tuition.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom for high schoolers without citizenship. There are ways for undocumented students to get monetary help and attain higher education.
A piece of bi-partisan legislation known as the DREAM Act has been submitted and re-submitted to congressional hearings many times since its inception in 2001. Its purpose is to level the playing field for undocumented students, and make financial aid available to those who meet certain criteria. While it’s yet to be ratified as a federal law, it has inspired a series of laws passed at the state level, thus making college more realistic for undocumented students in places like California and Texas.
Additionally, raised awareness has led to the advent of programs such as Golden Door Scholars, a Carolina-based nonprofit which awards high performing undocumented students with scholarships and professional experience. More scholarships and loans are becoming available for undocumented students nationwide.
The DREAM Act and scholarships aside, there’s still a long way to go before undocumented students are given real equality of opportunity within the collegiate ranks. Write your congressmen, donate if you’re able, and, most of all, share the story. One undocumented student unrightfully precluded from the education he or she has earned is one too many.