Prescott College, a liberal arts college in Arizona, has recently added a $30 fee to its annual tuition that will go towards the Freedom Education Fund, which aims to raise money for a new annual scholarship. This scholarship is for undocumented immigrant students, in a full-time or part-time undergraduate and graduate program, who demonstrate both adequate financial need and good academic standing. This is an incredible initiative working towards making higher education more available to hard-working undocumented students who are ineligible for federal financial aid. However, the fee is also fueling animosity towards undocumented students — opponents are against the idea of providing aid for someone in the country illegally at all, calling the fee “beyond absurd,” “irresponsible” and “a slap in the face.” Addressing these concerns while also keeping options open for undocumented students is only possible if state governments, in tandem with colleges, take a more active role in providing education for undocumented students.
Undocumented students are among the most vulnerable groups served by United States schools. Only 54 percent of undocumented students have a high school diploma, compared to 82 percent of their native-born peers. Currently, only five to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates enroll in an institution of higher education, and still fewer successfully graduate with a degree. This achievement gap is precipitated by undue stress and anxiety, combined with the rising costs of higher education and the lack of financial and social resources available to undocumented students.
Clearly, there is a need that is not being met. Only 45 universities provide scholarships for undocumented students, and the only other university with a student-funded scholarship is Loyola University Chicago, whose student body approved a referendum in 2013 to add $2.50 to their annual tuition rate to fund a scholarship for on-campus undocumented students, saying they wanted to help their undocumented peers and were willing to pay for it.
Prescott College is a pioneer in the path towards higher education for undocumented students. However, the controversy generated from the college’s new fee is understandable, if misplaced. Paying for another student’s education is a generous action, but not every college student is given this opportunity. State governments should do more to support the education of undocumented students. Passing legislation to allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates is a first step that has already been taken by about 19 states. In addition, states should pass legislation allowing undocumented students to qualify for publicly funded state education benefits, including grants, tuition waivers and scholarships. States should also make more resources available to educate and encourage undocumented students and their families about the options in higher education. This more active role by the state government may decrease the animosity toward undocumented students that scholarships such as these fuel.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 11 print edition. Email Aparna Alankar at [email protected]