Undocumented immigrants are guaranteed an education in the US through high school, but what about college?
Of the 12 million undocumented immigrants who reside in the United States, many immigrated with their parents when they were very young. They have lived in the US for almost their entire lives.
While their parents had opportunities to gain work permits, they couldn’t legalize their children’s statuses.
About 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from US high schools each year. But despite how well they may have done in school, it is impossible for many to afford college tuition because federal financial aid is not available to undocumented immigrants.
Now, many states are reviewing legislation to let some immigrants attend college at in-state tuition rates.
20 States that Offer In-State Tuition for Undocumented Immigrants
Currently, 20 states have passed legislation that allows undocumented students to receive in-state tuition:
- New Mexico
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island*
*These two states provide for undocumented immigrants through Broad of Regents decisions.
If you are an undocumented immigrant, you must meet some qualifications before you can receive the lower tuition rates. The criteria varies slightly in each state, but generally:
- You must have attended a few years of high school in the state.
- You must have graduated from a high school or obtained a GED in the state.
- You must sign an affidavit saying that you will file an application to legalize your immigration status as soon as you are eligible to do so.
Be sure to check the specific prerequisites for your state!
Laws & Policies on Undocumented Immigrants Attending College
There are no federal or state laws prohibiting undocumented immigrants from attending public or private colleges in the US, nor are there laws requiring proof of US citizenship or legal permanent residence with a college application.
However, schools can make their own admission policies, so it is a good idea to check up on the school you want to attend and see what their particular regulations are.
If you are accepted to the college of your choice but don’t qualify for in-state tuition under the new legislation, your college will regard you as an international student, despite how long you may have lived in the state. This means that you must pay out-of-state tuition rates, which is usually three or four times higher than in-state tuition. (Exception: There are a few states where international students qualify for in-state tuition.)
When the tuition rate is that high, most students depend on federal financial aid, including scholarships, loans and work-study programs. But undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any of these options under federal programs.
The DREAM Act & Other Opportunities for Undocumented Immigrants
The Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund lists some private scholarships available to students regardless of their immigration status.
What’s more, Congress has introduced the DREAM Act. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act would help undocumented immigrants who have attended and graduated from US high schools. In exchange for completing two years of higher education or two years of military service, the US government would provide financial aid for college and a shortened path to citizenship.
However, until the DREAM Act passes, undocumented immigrants can turn to in-state tuition rates to help them attend college and realize their potential.