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Undocumented youth face obstacles
Higher education often is out of reach for these students

Sunday, February 2, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

(Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on the issue of education for undocumented youth. The second article will be coverage of a forum on the issue.)

Undocumented students are assured a K-12 public education in Virginia, but they face obstacles to higher education in the areas of admission, tuition and financial aid, according to state officials and the College Board website.

“Undocumented students cannot legally receive any federally funded student financial aid, including loans, grants, scholarships or work-study money,” according to the College Board. “In most states, they are not eligible for state financial aid.”

Undocumented students “are children born abroad who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents,” according to the College Board. According to its website, the College Board is a nonprofit membership organization that, among other things, provides students a path to college opportunities, including financial support and scholarships.

In Virginia, public school divisions are required by state law to provide a free education to everyone of school age who lives in their school divisions, according to an Aug. 16 memo by Patricia I. Wright, state superintendent of public instruction.

Children cannot be denied an education because they do not hold valid U.S. citizenship or a student visa, the memo states.

Being undocumented “is not something parents are required to tell us,” said Pam Heath, superintendent of Martinsville City Public Schools. However, if the school division becomes aware that parents are not documented, it will attempt to work with them “to help them become documented for the sake of students,” Heath said.

Jared Cotton, superintendent of Henry County Public Schools, stated in an email: “According to our database, we currently have 13 immigrants in HCPS — all are in elementary school. On the fall report, we reported 12 to the state as that is how many we had enrolled at that time.”

He did not say if the 13 are documented or undocumented.

He also stated: “As defined by Public Law 107-100, Title III, Part C, Section 3301, (6), the term ‘immigrant children and youth’ means individuals who: (A) are aged 3 through 21, (B) were not born in any state; and (C) have not been attending one or more schools in any one or more states for more than three full academic years. (The three full academic years should be applied on a cumulative basis).”

Problems arise when undocumented students want to go to college and can’t afford to because they would have to pay out-of-state tuition or cannot qualify for financial aid.

There is no federal or state law prohibiting the admission of undocumented immigrants to public or private U.S. colleges, according to the College Board. It says federal or state laws do not require students to prove citizenship to enter U.S. institutions of higher education, but institutional policies on admitting undocumented students vary.

After a 2003 recommendation by Virginia’s attorney general, many four-year colleges in the commonwealth required applicants to submit proof of citizenship or legal residency and refuse admission to students without documentation, according to the College Board. But that’s policy, not state law, it added.

“We estimate that our enrollment would increase by 20-25 students” if undocumented students did not have to pay out-of-state tuition, according to Patrick Henry Community College spokeswoman Kris Landrum. Some students “cannot afford to attend college at the out-of-state rate and if they do not qualify for financial assistance.”

According to information from Landrum, PHCC’s in-state tuition and fees are $132.33 per credit hour; out-of-state tuition and fees are $324.43 per credit hour.

PHCC evaluates each case individually, she said. “... Based on state and federal policy, for tuition purposes, students under age 24 who are classified as dependents according to financial aid criteria are automatically determined to be undocumented or not based on their parents’ citizenship status.” So if a parent is classified as undocumented, for tuition purposes, the dependent student also is classified as undocumented.

Those students may be ineligible for many types of financial assistance, Landrum said. Landrum and Chris Parker, PHCC’s vice president for institutional advancement, said, for example, scholarships from the tobacco commission are not available to out-of-state students.

“PHCC will review their domicile information to decide whether they can be admitted as an in-state or out-of-state student,” Landrum said. “If the student was born in the United States, he or she qualifies as a U.S. citizen and can apply for federal assistance through the PELL grant and other federal grants and scholarships.”

The important point is that students should have their cases reviewed individually at PHCC. A number of undocumented students have been helped that way, Parker said.

According to Parker and Landrum, the number of undocumented students in this area is thought to be significant, but there’s not a good handle on it.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a recent speech to the General Assembly, according to the governor’s website: “Expanding access to higher education not only benefits our students, it benefits our economy. That is why I support offering the children of immigrants who have been living, learning and paying taxes in this commonwealth for years that opportunity to study at our colleges and universities. The General Assembly should not wait another year to pass the bipartisan Dream Act.”

Landrum said: “PHCC sees any action that increases access to education as an opportunity and a benefit to our students and our community.”

According to media reports, critics of granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants have argued it would encourage more illegal immigration and increase unemployment.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of Dec. 23, 2013, 15 states offered in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrant students through legislation.


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