A clear barrier we are seeing that has been heightened during the pandemic has been the low percentage of undocumented students entering the higher education path according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal.
It is clear we are losing undocumented students even before they come to our door. While colleges and universities have begun to invest in designated spaces to host student services for undocumented students, awareness needs to begin earlier. High school students often report not having knowledge of resources available for them in higher education. Resources such as tuition exemptions and financial aid should be discussed as early as ninth grade to encourage the pursuit of educational careers. As educators in higher education, it is our responsibility to build connections with our local and feeder high schools in order to provide this information to our prospective students.
Why is our work important?
If you are an educator guiding undocumented students, you likely wear many hats. Working with undocumented students requires a level of engagement and care that goes beyond building a superficial rapport with students. In addition to providing enrollment information, you may also be expected to provide references for mental health and housing services. This is due to the unique nature of an undocumented student’s educational journey. Some students may follow the traditional route and enroll into higher education after completing four years of high school. Others have chosen to join the UndocuHustle entrepreneurial movement and have found themselves with hopes of starting school not realizing what resources are available for them. Additionally, some of these students may have opened a business and are now turning to higher education to learn skills that will help them scale their dreams. No journey is simple; all are filled with barriers that can, at any time, unmotivate a student from continuing their educational endeavor. Fortunately, laws have been implemented over the last 20 years to address some of these barriers to access to higher education. While equity gaps continue to be present despite these changes, we know that students and educators continue to find new ways of reaching academic goals and expanding access. The graphic below also illustrates the importance of the California Community College System not only in enrolling students from our K-12 system and adult education but also in transferring and supporting students in their entrepreneurial or English as a second language endeavors. As educators, it is important to keep in mind the Chancellor’s Office Guided Pathways framework and Vision for Success that highlight a structured approach to student success.
Chapter 2 will explore and provide guidance around the undocumented student enrollment journey. It is extremely important for colleges to have a clear understanding of the enrollment process for their students, as this has been the number one barrier for undocumented students. We will provide examples and best practices for colleges in the next chapter.