Students lacking citizenship shouldn’t face barriers to college


Earlier this month, the federal government reaffirmed access to public education for all students, including those whose parents live in the country without legal permission.

The U.S. Justice and Education Departments released guidelines reminding school districts they can not deny these students based on their parents’ ability to verify the students’ age or residence.

Since schools throughout the country continue to seek the immigration status of students and their parents or request a parent’s driver’s license or Social Security card, all of which may hinder the enrollment of a child, validating the right of a student to attend primary and secondary school comes at the right time.

Even though public schools may not bar these students access to K-12 education, these students should not have to expect setbacks when it’s time for college.

For instance, many of these students must anticipate paying out-of-state tuition, which can cost three times more than in-state tuition, without receiving any form of financial aid in many cases. This makes the cost of attending college even more expensive.

Florida lawmakers recently recognized these students should not face more difficulty obtaining a college degree solely because of their lack of citizenship. The new law, passed by the legislature in May, will allow around 1,300 students to qualify for in-state tuition if they were enrolled in a Florida high school for at least three years, according to an estimate by the Florida Senate.

However, according to a Tampa Bay Times article, these students receive in-state tuition in only 21 states.

The lack of empathy for some students who may have lived in a particular state for most of their lives and would otherwise qualify as a resident for tuition purposes is especially detrimental since only five states provide these students with state financial aid and none of these students are eligible for federal financial aid, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Another obstacle is the enrollment policies at certain institutions, such as some four-year colleges in Virginia.

Even though Virginia now offers in-state tuition to students qualified under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which includes those who came to the U.S. before age 16 and are enrolled in school or have earned a high school diploma, some colleges in the state of Virginia still require prospective students to provide proof of citizenship or residency, which these students clearly can not do.

Even worse, some states deny these students from enrolling at all.

According to NCSL, Alabama and South Carolina passed legislation for such a prohibition and a Georgia Board of Regents decision ruled those without “lawful presence” can not be enrolled in
selective public colleges that were not able to admit all applicants who were academically qualified in the past two years.

Georgia’s rule has effectively kept these students out of the classrooms of competitive universities such as the University of Georgia, Georgia State, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia also denies these students in-state tuition.

It is time for the educational opportunities of these students throughout the country to be reconsidered so fair access does not end after earning a high school diploma, whether it is because of higher tuition costs or from not having the option in the first place.

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.