Crushed Dreams and Broken Promises, Supreme Court Edition
On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States handed a victory to Dreamers, blocking the Trump administration’s latest attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. For the nearly 700,000 Dreamers, this decision provides a welcome but temporary reprieve from the fear of being deported from a country that is, for many of them, the only home they have ever known. Sadly, the decision neither protects the DACA program, nor provides a pathway to citizenship for the more than 1 million undocumented students in K-12 schools and the over 450,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education in the United States. Congress should pass the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), which would codify DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) protections and provide students a path toward permanent residency or citizenship. Absent these protections, we offer undocumented students only broken promises and crushed dreams.
The existing state of affairs amounts to what Louise Seamster and Raphaël Charron-Chenier call “predatory inclusion,” wherein undocumented students have limited access to higher education, but on terms that often cancel out the benefits. Institutions admit these students, take their tuition dollars and leave them (hopefully) with a diploma in hand but few or no employment options. Until we have federal action, higher education’s promise of a better future for undocumented students and their families is an empty one. What’s more, depending on the state in which students live, it can be an exceptionally costly path. As a recent report by The Education Trust showed, higher education in the United States remains wildly unaffordable for many low-income students. And the picture for undocumented students is even worse, since they don’t qualify for federal financial aid and are only rarely eligible for state aid.
College, regardless of type or whether students live on or off campus, is, on the whole, unaffordable for undocumented students. Nationally, undocumented students who enroll at a public community and technical college would have to work nearly 29 hours a week, on average. But policy context matters. In states where undocumented students are expected to pay out-of-state tuition, they would have to work more than 35 hours a week. In contrast, in states where undocumented students are eligible for in-state resident tuition, they would have to work 23 hours a week; and in states where undocumented students qualify for in-state resident tuition and state financial aid, undocumented students would have to work just over 14 hours per week to study full time at a public community and technical college.
Sadly, a public community or technical college may be the most affordable option for undocumented students. Four-year public colleges and universities are all but out of reach for them. Nationally, undocumented students living off campus would have to work 48 hours per week, on average; while those living on campus would need to work a whopping 70 hours per week to cover the cost of a college education without going into debt. Neither of those options is particularly realistic or affordable.
The state picture is similarly depressing, though vastly different, depending on the policy context in each state (scroll down for a state-by-state display). In states where undocumented students are subject to out-of-state tuition, they would have to work 85 hours per week to live on campus and 62 hours per week to live off campus. In states that have in-state resident tuition policies, undocumented students would need to work an average of 56 hours a week to live on campus and nearly 32 hours a week to live off campus. Even in the most favorable policy context, where undocumented students are eligible for in-state resident tuition and state financial aid, undocumented students would have to work nearly 41 hours per week to live on campus and 20 hours per week to live off campus.
While the Supreme Court’s decision is a step in the right direction for DACA students, if we are going to live up to our country’s credo as the “land of hope and opportunity” we must make the dream of a higher education open to all students. If ever there were a time for state leaders, colleges and universities to offer extra supports for undocumented students, this is it.
There are things that policymakers at the federal and state levels could do to improve access for undocumented students. At the federal level, absent comprehensive immigration reform, Congress should pass the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), make undocumented students and students with TPS eligible for Pell Grants, and increase the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.
At the state level, legislatures and governors should:
- Adopt in-state resident tuition policies, making undocumented students and students with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) eligible for in-state resident tuition. In states where only those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are eligible (Virginia), eligibility should be expanded.
- In states where undocumented students are denied access, legislatures should reverse those policies and make them more inclusive by including students with TPS. This would reduce the work burden on undocumented students by 29 hours a week.
- Every state should ensure that undocumented students are eligible for state financial-aid programs and state free-college programs. While the impact would vary based on the amount of the state grant, it would improve affordability.
Meanwhile, institutions should ensure that undocumented students and TPS students are eligible for institutional aid, and scholarship-awarding entities should ensure that scholarships are not limited to DACA recipients or U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Additionally, given that undocumented students are excluded by the CARES Act, institutions should prioritize the needs of undocumented students as they develop their institutional emergency aid response plans. Absent these actions, the benefits of a higher education may remain permanently out of reach for many Dreamers.
For millions of college-going students, one of the most urgent concerns is the rising cost of college and how to pay for it — and not just for tuition but other necessities like textbooks, housing, food, and transportation. The idea that one can work one’s way through college with a minimum-wage job is, in most cases, a myth.
Students from low-income backgrounds should be able to attend college without shouldering a debt burden or having to work so many hours that they jeopardize their chances of completing a degree.