How to Support Undocumented Students in Higher Education

  • March 22, 2017
Higher Ed Undocumented Students

Pew Research Center estimates that nationwide, more than 2 million undocumented children arrived to the U.S. as children. That means that they have grown up in the United States, learned English, and integrated themselves into communities as Americans.

Each year, an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, yet only 5-10% go on to attend higher education after graduating high school.

As of 2015, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 undocumented students are enrolled in college nationwide (2% of college students according to Pew Research Center). Of those that do go on to higher education, a large majority are highly motivated and talented students that have overcome a variety of obstacles to better their future.

Countless educators around the country, including this California-based teacher, have expressed how beneficial undocumented students are to America’s education system. Many agree that if we want to educate America’s youth, enhance learning experiences, and create more opportunities for underserved populations, undocumented students need to be a part of that.

Colleges across the country recognize the importance of undocumented students and are developing resources and programs to support their education. Undocumented students face a number of barriers when it comes to furthering their education, including paying for school (since they are ineligible for federal financial aid), a lack of mentorship or guidance, and anxiety/stress about legal status. In fact, a study by UCLA showed that 75% of students worry about being detained or deported.

Providing undocumented students with support and resources to not only start their higher education journey, but to succeed at college, is beneficial not only to institutions, but to the American education system as a whole.

 

If you are looking to start a resource center or build on your current program, here’s what some schools are doing.

  1. Create an orientation program with a special focus on undocumented students.

 Many institutions have begun offering orientation programs created specifically for undocumented students. UC Merced’s Orientation for Undocumented Students covers a variety of topics including DACA, free legal resources available, financial resources, requesting emergency funds, scholarships, and mentorship.

Since 75% of undocumented students work part-time during college, providing flexible options for orientation is important. Offering an online orientation or hybrid orientation can ensure students can access the content.

 

  1. Build an ally network.

Most intuitions would agree that an ally support system is important to student success. The University of Washington created an Ally Directory to students to search their database of allies available who are ready and willing to support them. Allies can include program directors, advisors, counselors, professors and even students that are interested in providing support to undocumented students.

 

  1. Provide mentoring dedicated to the unique needs of undocumented students.

 Undocumented students have unique needs when it comes to campus support. A large majority of students are the first-generation in their family to go to college, so many things like registering for classes, paying for housing, and ordering books may seem foreign to them. Christopher Basurto, a first-generation student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, noted “You have to learn everything from zero, you don’t have a family or network or support group that you can say ‘Hey, how do you study for college?’”.  Developing a mentorship program, like Cal Poly’s BEACoN Program, can help you pool resources around campus and provide support to students in need.

 

  1. Offer referrals for on-campus and on-campus resources.

In addition to mentorship, resources for things like legal advice, housing advice, and even counseling can greatly benefit the quality of life for undocumented students, therefore improving their chances of succeeding in their higher education path.

For example, one of UC Berkeley’s law centers offers free legal support for undocumented students and family members. If your university doesn’t have the resources to offer support like this, organizations like E4FC can assist as well.

 

  1. Provide scholarship support and resources

Scholarships are crucial to helping undocumented students to pay for college. Your support program should assist students in finding scholarships based on their qualifications and best practices on applying to scholarships. There are a variety of organizations that offer scholarships specific to undocumented students, including:

 

  1. Interactive Workshops

Interactive programs and workshops that provide undocumented students with dedicated in-person support allow students to ask questions in real time. CSU Fullerton’s “Titan Resource Dreamers Center” offers workshops on a variety of topics including leadership development, intersections of identity, navigating the University, and applying to graduate school.