Every year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools. The federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which has not been enacted, would allow undocumented foreign nationals to get legal status in order to attend school or join the military. Although DREAM is not yet a reality, some states have enacted their own version of the law. This guide discusses whether these foreign nationals can be admitted to college, whether they can qualify to pay in-state tuition rates and whether they will qualify for financial aid.
Currently, undocumented students can attend many public and private U.S. colleges. The admission depends on the state or school policy. State run institutions that accept federal funding are not supposed to deny admission to undocumented students. However, some states, like South Carolina and Virginia, require their colleges to exclude undocumented students from acceptance based on their position that public college is a “public benefit" unavailable to undocumented persons. Pursuant to a telephone conversation with an advisor at the University of Florida’s International Center, UF does admit undocumented students. This is the policy at many state colleges. When filling out the application for admission, undocumented students should not provide a security number on the form. Instead, the field should be left blank or filled in with 000-00-000.
In 1996 Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which prevents undocumented foreign nationals from receiving in-state tuition rates. However, some states have allowed for in-state tuition rates by enacting their own version of the DREAM Act. The following states have laws or policies that create rights for undocumented college applicants who graduated high school after at least three years of attendance at a school within the state: California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Similar legislation is pending in other states. A law was also passed in Connecticut, but vetoed by the governor. In many of these states, the student is required to sign an affidavit, which declares that the student is either a permanent resident or will apply for residency at the earliest opportunity. In Florida, undocumented students should not attempt to qualify for in-state tuition because the necessary form requires a voter’s registration card or evidence of alienage in conformity with the requirements of IIRIRA.
Federal financial aid is not available to undocumented persons. Undocumented students should seek out private, merit-based scholarships and aid directly from the college. Texas allows undocumented foreign nationals to receive financial aid on a state level. In addition, state schools in California allow for fee waivers. As of this writing, undocumented students in Florida are currently eligible for Bright Futures Scholarships. In Illinois, undocumented students are eligible for a privately donated scholarship fund that is run by the state.