A chance at higher education for illegal immigrants

With the news that Congressional Republicans have quietly collected signatures on a pledge to vote down practically any Democrat-backed legislation that comes their way, it seems certain that the DREAM Act is once again headed for failure when the Senate votes on it, likely sometime in the next few days.

A protest for immigrant rights (photo courtesy of Cesarbojorquez)

The bill, which would give some illegal immigrant students the chance to earn permanent residency, has been introduced in every Congress this decade. Despite backing by many in the education world, it has yet to gather sufficient political support – particularly from conservatives.

Currently, because of a Supreme Court decision in 1982, illegal immigrants are granted a free education in American public schools. Although college is still a legal option for the tens of thousands of undocumented students who graduate high school each year, it’s next to impossible for many to afford college tuition. Ten states have passed laws since 2001 that would allow illegal immigrants to pay the cheaper in-state tuition at their universities, but these students are not eligible for federal financial aid, including Pell grants. And with the cost of college rising, post-secondary education has become even more out of reach for many undocumented students.

But as some programs begin to blur the lines between college and high school, some illegal immigrants might have a chance at obtaining at least some higher education. Dual credit programs – once thought of as a way for academically advanced students to get a jump-start on their college careers – are rapidly expanding as a means for disadvantaged students to get exposure to college.

Programs like early or middle colleges give students the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. And at least one program – the Early College High School – provides a framework where students can potentially earn their associate’s degree along with their high school diploma.

Still, most illegal students attend traditional high schools where they don’t have the chance to earn college credit. And even those who manage to pull in the 60 credits required for an associate’s degree while in high school will still have illegal status as they try to find a job.

But with legislation like the DREAM Act continuously stalled in D.C., taking advantage of one of these expanding programs might be some students’ best chance at furthering their education for a while.

POSTED BY ON December 2, 2010