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New Report From CAP: For Many Undocumented Students, Access To A College Education Is Simply Not A Reality

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The Center For American Progress released a report today on the need for further access to affordable, higher education for undocumented students.

In January, President Obama announced his “America’s College Promise” plan to assist youth and adults in accessing a community college education. But when it comes to a four-year and post-secondary education, a combination of factors — including legal status, income disparities, and differing state policies on tuition and financial aid — make transitioning to higher education difficult for undocumented students.

From CAP:

Many undocumented students who have grown up in the United States often are not aware of their immigration status until they apply to college. While their friends learn that they are eligible for grants or loans, undocumented students learn that they cannot access federal financial aid and that their state may not offer them in-state tuition. Indeed, some schools welcome undocumented students, while others do not. And with high schools lacking college guidance counselors—many public high schools have an estimated ratio of 1 counselor for every 500 students—many counselors may not have the knowledge or time necessary to help undocumented students. Furthermore, these students experience poverty at twice the rate of students with U.S.-born parents, making it unlikely that their families have saved money for their college education. It is also unlikely that they can afford the high and ever-increasing cost of tuition, especially without access to in-state tuition rates and federal grants and loans.

While available data on undocumented students and higher-education attainment are limited, it is clear that undocumented students have significantly greater trouble pursuing higher education than their U.S.-born counterparts. Undocumented students are significantly less likely to finish high school: 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-old undocumented students do not graduate, compared with 8 percent of all students nationwide. Given cost constraints, a majority of undocumented students who do complete high school attend lower-cost community colleges, which often have lower completion rates than four-year public colleges, lowering students’ chances of completing. Financial stresses also contribute to lower bachelor’s degree completion and extended completion times.

According to CAP, 20 states currently allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates (and another four allow undocumented students to access financial aid or grants). This means that for undocumented students in a majority of the states, accessing a college education is simply not a reality. Undocumented students, though, have been fighting to change this.

Beginning last week, DREAMers in New York staged a hunger strike in an effort to convince state legislators to add New York to the shortlist of states offering undocumented students access to financial aid.

But, after a week of protests, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators failed to come to an agreement before the April 1st budget deadline. This news comes after Cuomo made repeated claims (including during his reelection campaign) that he would finally make the NY DREAM Act a reality after it failed on a partisan line in the state legislature in 2014.

Texas, meanwhile, is one of the handful of states that does offer undocumented students access to both in-state tuition and financial aid (though signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, it infamously got him booed by a Republican primary audience in 2012). But even though Texas was the first state to usher in this kind of legislation, it’s now at risk of repeal following the inauguration of the administration of Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, and Texas DREAMers have been busy rallying against the effort:

In closing, the CAP report writes:

As gains made in the postsecondary attainment of competitor countries outpace gains made in the United States, America needs to do more to increase its college-going and high school graduation rates, giving undocumented students the ability to succeed and to become the social and economic participants the United States needs to guarantee a prosperous future.

The report is available for reading here.