For high school students who are also undocumented immigrants, the path to a college education is one that is often fraught with anxiety, confusion and frustration.
In Florida and most other states, undocumented students must pay much-higher out-of-state tuition to attend college, and certain key sources of financial aid, such as federal Pell Grants, are off-limits. Proposed federal legislation — known as the DREAM Act — that would offer in-state tuition and other benefits to these students has been stalled in Congress for years.
The College Board, meanwhile, has been a staunch supporter of the DREAM Act. Though the College Board can’t compel Congress to do anything legislatively, the organization on Thursday released a resource guide for undocumented students that it hopes will help them navigate the confusing array of state laws and institutional rules that are now in place.
“We see this as a first step,” said James Montoya, vice president of relationship development at The College Board, which is hosting a three-day conference in Miami this week to focus on issues and obstacles facing Hispanic students.
The resource guide for undocumented students, Montoya said, will serve as a “living document” that will be continuously updated and improved going forward.
Much of the resource guide is focused on providing state-by-state breakdowns of the rules allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition — a policy followed in 14 U.S. states. The guide explains the various requirements undocumented students need to fulfill before they can qualify for the tuition price break, such as attending a high school in that state for a minimum number of years.
For some states, the guide also includes sample forms similar to those undocumented students must fill out to qualify for in-state tuition. States typically require students to sign a sworn statement that they will pursue citizenship at the earliest opportunity, for example.
The target audience for the guide is not just parents and students, but also high school guidance counselors and college administrators who may at times field questions from families.
For Florida students, the guide offers no road map to in-state tuition, as Florida public universities and colleges are barred under state law from offering that discounted price to anyone who cannot prove legal residency in the United States. Still, the College Board guide can be of some use for Florida undocumented students, as it also includes a list of scholarship organizations that award aid to non-citizens.
“Yes, the situation is not easy, but it’s not a hopeless situation,” said Irma Archuleta, a vice president at California’s Evergreen Valley College who traveled to Miami for this week’s College Board conference.
Though Florida charges out-of-state tuition to undocumented students, Archuleta said there are still actions that the states’ public colleges can take to make college more accessible to this group. For example, schools can let students pay off their hefty tuition bill through monthly payment plans, or create a lending library of textbooks to help students who can’t afford to buy their own texts.
The College Board’s guide was immediately blasted by those who advocate a hard-line immigration stance. Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Washington-based Federation For American Immigration Reform, called the document a “half-baked idea” that ignores current law making it illegal to hire undocumented workers, even those holding a college degree.
“It’s a tacit wink and a nod to game the system when and where you can,” Dane said.
But at a Thursday evening College Board educational workshop held at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, UCLA administrator Alfred Herrera defended helping undocumented students, saying they represent some of the “best and brightest.”
“We need to build a support network,” Herrera said. “The reality is there are a lot of people out there, across the country, fighting to help immigrant students.”
The College Board guide can be viewed online here.