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In today’s global economy, movement around the world is necessary to ensure economic growth and revenue generation in commerce. Welcoming good people with good ideas has always been a way of ensuring that culture doesn’t remain stagnant and that the workload of a great country can be shared with each other as schoolmates, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. Unfortunately, many high school students in the U.S. don’t know all of the various avenues to continue their education beyond public school when they or their parents have come here from another country. Many are also unaware of tuition-free programs, scholarships, and possible financial aid. The National Immigration Law Center publishes a very detailed account of the laws for immigrant students heading to college. We also have a useful list of 25 Best Free Colleges in the U.S. for prospective students to consider.
How Do Immigrant Students Benefit Us?
Although misunderstood by some, making a college education financially accessible to all students – at least, those who are willing to do the work to get themselves there – has many positive impacts on society. These include reducing crime and increasing economic stability for historically low-income communities, ultimately reducing healthcare costs and the number of people requiring public assistance. Generally speaking, as the Baby Boomer generation passes retirement age, the number of educated young people who are skilled workers will be in high demand, and being unprepared for this future is dangerous.
Recognizing this, seventeen states have passed legislation that allows immigrant students at any stage in the process towards citizenship to receive in-state college tuition status, provided that they meet certain criteria. These states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington State. To take advantage of these programs a non-citizen student must apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy founded by the Obama administration in June of 2012. Other conditions of receiving in-state status include attending two or more years of high school in that state, coming from a low-income family (the exact annual income varies by state), and ensuring that the student will apply for U.S. citizenship as soon as possible. For other states, immigrants will need an F-1 student visa to attend college in the U.S.
Where Is College Free for Immigrant Students?
Immigrant students may worry about attending college after their high school graduation, even with legal immigrant status. For instance, the Immigrant Responsibility Act has made many immigrants fearful of their status. Even students with lawful permanent residence worry that they may be deported.
There are many states who are passing legislation that will give residents of that state access to community college, tuition-free. Some are participating in what is called the Promise program, largely funded by that state’s lottery earnings. While the list is growing, every state mentioned above has passed or is attempting to pass legislation that will give low-income high school graduates free tuition to two-year community colleges. New York and New Mexico are the first to complete this sweeping legislation, with Washington State, Minnesota, and Texas following closely behind. If students who receive in-state status through this legislation continue working hard through high school and beyond, they may have the opportunity to receive free tuition for their community college as well. These encouraging programs that are appearing all over the country show that the American dream is alive and well and that it still pays to work hard in the United States.
What About Undocumented Immigrants?
Undocumented immigrants may have been living in the United States for decades, but their status has been uncertain. This has left many of them feeling like they have no future in the country. However, there are still options for undocumented immigrants to pursue higher education and attend college in the US. While there are some restrictions and limitations, undocumented immigrants can still attend college, depending on their state’s laws and policies. The most common states where undocumented immigrants can attend college are California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and Massachusetts.
The benefits of going to college for undocumented immigrant students include improving their life opportunities and receiving a postsecondary education education rather than a high school diploma. It also offers them a chance to make the best of what they have with the hope that later in life they will be able to return to the country legally with their degrees and find an opportunity in this new country. In addition, many universities across the US offer scholarships that are available only for students who are either DACA recipients or Undocumented students who will pursue higher education.
The path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants can be a long and arduous one, with many obstacles in their path such as the H1-B visa process or the green card process. For those who are unable to wait, those who wish to live in the US on a long term basis but do not want to go through the legal process of becoming citizens, they may be able to obtain a visa through the DREAM Act. This is an act signed into law by former President Barack Obama that will allow those who entered before age 18 and have been residents for 5 continuous years and graduated from a U.S. school.
State aid and financial assistance is essential for many students to attend college, especially for undocumented residents. States that allow DACA students to apply for federal financial aid and state financial aid include:
- New Jersey
Some states also offer aid for undocumented but otherwise eligible students, without regard to his or her immigration status:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
In a progressive move, certain states across the country have made it possible for undocumented students to pay in state tuition rate regardless of immigration status, granting them access to the same education opportunities as their documented peers. This may be true of their local community college as well.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Washington DC
However, in some states, undocumented immigrants may not be allowed to attend public colleges or universities, or may not be eligible for student financial aid, but may be accepted by private universities. They may also earn private scholarships for young immigrants with uncertain legal status.
In fact, some social-justice oriented colleges have been declared sanctuary colleges for undocumented students, vowing to protect undocumented students from deportation and harassment regardless of federal law. In fact, federal laws allow institutions to a student’s immigration status as privileged private information. Among the private and public institutions known as sanctuary campuses are:
- California Community College
- California State University
- Connecticut College
- Delaware Technical Community College
- Drake University
- Iowa State University
- Pitzer College
- Portland State University
- Reed College
- Rutgers University
- Santa Fe Community College
- Swarthmore College
- University of Pennsylvania
- Wesleyan University
These choices are an important step in helping create a more equitable and inclusive society, allowing all individuals to reach their full potential. Many undocumented students aspire to make their parents proud, and lawful immigration status should not be a barrier.
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Aya Andrews is a passionate educator and mother of two, with a diverse background that has shaped her approach to teaching and learning. Born in Metro Manila, she now calls San Diego home and is proud to be a Filipino-American. Aya earned her Masters degree in Education from San Diego State University, where she focused on developing innovative teaching methods to engage and inspire students.
Prior to her work in education, Aya spent several years as a continuing education consultant for KPMG, where she honed her skills in project management and client relations. She brings this same level of professionalism and expertise to her work as an educator, where she is committed to helping each of her students achieve their full potential.
In addition to her work as an educator, Aya is a devoted mother who is passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive home environment for her children. She is an active member of her community, volunteering her time and resources to support local schools and organizations. Aya is also an avid traveler, and loves to explore new cultures and cuisines with her family.
With a deep commitment to education and a passion for helping others succeed, Aya is a true inspiration to those around her. Her dedication to her craft, her community, and her family is a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence in all aspects of her life.