Education: 3 Opportunities to Help Undocumented Students Attend College

Comprehensive Immigration Reform may be stalled this year limiting opportunities for millions, including undocumented students. While the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program grants reprieve for some, issues remain such as the inability to pay for college. Until the DREAM Act which would provide access to grants, loans and even in-state tuition passes, many of these students will see their higher education dreams thwarted.


Undocumented students protest for the right to attend college. Courtesy: Active Minds

The documentary The Graduates/ Los Graduados, which I discuss in Education Wednesday: 3 Take-aways from Los Graduados, puts a face to the experiences of more than 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year. In the film, one undocumented student with limited resources contemplates dropping out of high school and abandoning his dream of attending college. Without options to finance college, high school is the end. 

To solve this problem, states, businesses, and student advocacy groups are working to secure financial aid and other opportunities for college-ready undocumented students.

3 Opportunities to Help Undocumented Students Attend College

  1. Scholarships: Once limited by legal residency status, the number of scholarships for undocumented students has grown significantly such as those offered by the Golden Door Scholars and the LaVida Scholars. College administrators are also making financial aid available. University of California President Janet Napolitano who presided over the Department of Homeland Security when deportations skyrocketed to nearly 2 million, recently announced $5 million dollars in financial aid for undocumented students. Check here for more scholarship opportunities.
  2. Legislation: More states such as Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon are offering in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Up to 16, the number of states passing some kind of DREAM Act is likely to increase.
  3. Mentorship: The conversation of resources for undocumented students is often centered around financial contributions. However, a powerful resource is the growing number of mentors available to help undocumented students navigate the path to college. The stories shared by older peers who once overcame barriers to enter college and organizations such as We Own the Dream are examples of mentoring support for college-ready undocumented students.

Undocumented students are an important part of our country, not only as a group that will help shape our future economy, but also as our neighbors, friends, and family members. Providing equal opportunity to attend college is a must for undocumented students, particularly as we work to improve educational outcomes for all students. For young people who call the U.S. their home, and in most cases know no other,  we as a country must continue to create new pathways that lead more undocumented students to higher education, prosperous careers, and equal standing as future citizens.


An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Advocating for the rights of undocumented students? Please share your experiences. 


  1. says

    ABSOLUTELY they must go to college and we must all help them navigate the process, connect to funding resources, ensure they do plenty of informational interviews, teach them best practices for success, help them build their networks, so that they graduate there too! Big picture? China is on track to graduate 200 million students from college by 2030. Where do you think they’re going to want to move to work? What if only 20% of them move here??
    The USA cannot afford to throw away 65,000 potential college graduates every year! Check these statistics to see what I mean.

    Thanks for putting these resources together so action can be taken by many!

    Graciela Tiscareno-Sato
    Author of “Latinnovating” & “Good Night Captain Mama”

    • says

      Thank you for sharing Graciela! Much as you mention above, I often worry about the implications of the U.S.’s lack of support in terms of policy for undocumented students. These students are the individuals who will shape future innovation and help America keep its competitive position in the world. I will certainly follow your lead–while tracking education in other countries always increases my sense of urgency, it also provides great insights on ways we can improve outcomes for our students.

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