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We Must Help Undocumented Students On Capitol Hill—And On The Ground

Sep 18th, 2017

President Obama’s lofty aspiration for the U.S. to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world was always a stretch goal. To meet it, 60 percent of young adults would have to complete at least an associate degree by 2020. As of 2016, we haven’t yet reached 50 percent. Now, it looks like that goal has become even more unattainable, thanks to the recent termination of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Since 2012, DACA has allowed certain individuals who arrived in the U.S. as children to receive an exemption on deportation for a two-year period. To date, 800,000 individuals have received DACA, with approximately one-fifth of this population currently enrolled in college and one-third waiting in the wings at high school. Without DACA’s protection, the higher education dreams of these students – and the thousands more potentially eligible – may be dashed.

Even before the recent decision to end DACA, these students already faced severe financial obstacles to higher education. Each year, 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school but only 10,000 complete college. Many of these students come from households making less than $50,000 a year. Paying for college is an enormous burden for these families, but they have limited resources to turn to for financial assistance. Federal student aid isn’t an option; state financial aid and/or in-state tuition rates is only available in certain states; and institutional financial aid eligibility policies vary from school to school.

Students in this position are understandably often confused and frightened about their next steps after high school. They frequently don’t know they’re undocumented until they begin the process of applying to college and they’re unsure of who to turn to for advice and support – even more so now in the current tumultuous political climate.

ASA’s College Planning Services has created two new useful guides, one for college access professionals and one for students, to help undocumented students find the right path to higher education. We hope that students and their advocates – be they guidance counselors, educators, college access professionals, immigration legal service providers or others – can use this information to provide students with advice on paying for college, scholarship opportunities, and local resources.

The higher education community is standing together as it brings the fight over undocumented students to Congress. Equally as important, we must come together as an on-the-ground resource for these blameless students who deserve the chance to pursue an education that will better not just their own lives, but our communities and economy as well.  Working together, let’s make the process of paying for college more transparent and less daunting for this vulnerable population of students whose only wish is to succeed in the one place they’ve ever known as home – the United States of America.