Can Undocumented Students Apply to Public Universities in Texas?

Aug 25, 2017

Maricela Oliva and Christopher Goldsberry
Credit Maricela Oliva

University and college campuses around the country and here in Texas have been welcoming students for the start of the Fall semester.  College entrance requirements vary from school to school.  But what if you are an undocumented young person and want to attend?  

Some of them could fall under provisions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.  That’s an Obama-era immigration policy that grants a two year deferment from deportation to those who entered the country illegally as minors. Are such undocumented students eligible to attend public colleges and universities here in Texas? Are there special admission requirements?  Texas Public Radio’s Norma Martinez spoke to two representatives from the University of Texas at San Antonio:  Maricela Oliva, Associate Professor with the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; and Christopher Goldsberry, UTSA senior undergraduate admissions counselor.

What is UTSA’s admission policy in regards to undocumented students?
 

Christopher Goldsberry: UTSA’s admissions policy for undocumented students is the same for any other domestic student that would like to apply.  We treat them exactly the same.  They are put through the same rigorous admissions process as any other student. So when we are actually looking at a student for just admissions purposes, we are not looking at the fact that they are undocumented.

I understand that undocumented students or DACA students they do have to have some sort of a proof of residency. 

CG:  Yes, that is correct. Students do have to answer residency questions on the application for admission. So that’s how when we’ve actually have gone through the admissions process that we do determine, based on what they state on their residency questions, if they are a domestic student, if they are undocumented, or if they are actually an international student.   

Is this admission policy unique to UTSA, or is this something that applies to UT schools in the system?

Maricela Oliva: The way we treat students in terms of allowing them admission is partly connected to state policy that we want more & more students to have a post-secondary education because it benefits us economically & socially.  The provisions that we have in place to allow students the same kinds of access as in-state students are part of statutory House Bill 1403 passed in 2001.  Because of the argument that we want more students to be educated than not - it’s an economic argument, it’s not the moral argument that we sometimes make.   But the reality is that a young person who’s not educated, has limited education, is more likely to be a drain on the system, and that’s true of anyone, than kind of an economic engine to help power the economic benefits that the state requires.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, has been in limbo lately with the current administration.  Have you noticed any change in the number of DACA students who are applying to UTSA?  You’ve recently started the fall semester at UTSA – has there been a change in the number of students?

MO: Well I don’t know if we would know if there’s a change in numbers.  DACA is a federal process, it’s not a process that UTSA is involved in.  I can say that before DACA was in place, I did hear from students who were concerned about their inability to work, their inability to essentially come out of the shadows in terms of their status because of fear of becoming known as someone with undocumented status.  In many cases these young people didn’t even know themselves until they hit some adolescent milestones that they weren’t citizens of the U.S.  We’re hearing some of the same reservations now.  And even though I have not heard from students at UTSA, the policy bodies across the country are actually saying ‘If you haven’t already applied for DACA, it might not be in your interest to apply now.’  We don’t know if that’s going to exist in the future, and by applying, you essentially reveal your status.

So there might not be a lot of undocumented students out there who may know that they would pay in-state tuition if they were accepted to UTSA. So how do you reach out to them to let them know about the benefits of attending a public university and that they can attend without any fear of being deported, or without any fear of paying any additional costs like an out-of-state student would. ?

CG:  Many of them are willing to talk to us and are willing to reveal that status.  And it allows us to really help that student understand ‘OK, this is what House Bill 1403 is.  Do you realize you may be eligible for in-state tuition?  That means that your college experience is going to be quite a lot cheaper than if you were to pay out-of-state residency.’  I don’t know that it’s been a major issue for us to actually have to pull that information from the student because most of them are rather forthcoming when it comes to just admissions.  When it comes to financial aid, because the students who are undocumented, their financial aid opportunities are much more limited than a domestic U.S. citizen or permanent resident’s financial aid opportunities might be, in-state residency is equally just very important to these students so that they can help to be able to afford their college experience.

Are undocumented students, just because of their status, ineligible for federal financial aid?

CG: That’s correct.  Undocumented students are not eligible for federal aid, but they are eligible for state aid if they are eligible for House Bill 1403.

What about scholarships?  Are there some scholarships that are available to undocumented students, academic or otherwise? 

CG:  Most of our students are going to be eligible if they are eligible for House Bill 1403.  We would encourage them to apply for financial aid like any other student, with the exception that they don’t use the same form that a domestic U.S. student of permanent residence would use.  At UTSA, we ask them to utilize the TASFA, the Texas Application for State Financial Aid.  Many schools across the state utilize that form.  It can be found on the College for All Texans website.  We do consider them for a couple of grants - we consider their eligibility for Texas Excellence grants, for Texas Public Education grants – and some schools may have scholarships that they individually consider students for.  For example at UTSA they may be considered for our distinguished scholar program because we do consider all students for that if they meet the criteria.  And then we always encourage these students to look for outside scholarships.  There’s just not a lot of aid for them at the school level because of their undocumented status.

MO:  One of the findings we had from the conversations we had locally in the community about undocumented students and how we might do a better job at serving them, was that, in fact, very often educators at both the K-12 and higher ed level weren’t as informed as they could be about how the status really changes things like eligibility for financial aid or whether if it was safe to reveal themselves.  Early on, students were very reluctant to essentially reveal themselves to educators. So, very often educators weren’t aware that this student, who in many other respects looks like other students in the school or in a college – and by that I mean they might be first generation, they might be low-income—was undocumented.   So as things started to change from a policy perspective and DACA came on board, then students felt a little more comfortable sharing their status because they saw that there was now a policy implication to doing things with DACA.  In the current environment, we may see things going back to where they were before, where students are less willing, or more reluctant, to reveal their status to a K-12 educator, to a post-secondary outreach person, and that might get in the way of students actually taking the step of going to college.

Is there anything at UTSA – any department, organization – that reaches out and is a support group for some of these undocumented students who might have that uncertainty?

MO:  Students on campus organize themselves as supports for each other in that circumstance.  There was also an organization within the community, they were  students in college who met because they were finding, at least in the early period, they sometimes were getting inaccurate information because the average educator may not be as well versed in this particular aspect of policy.  The San Antonio Immigrant Youth Movement got together and created their own booklet with information about who to talk to at the different campus, and would provide quality information.

CG:  I am aware of the San Antonio Immigration Youth Movement and their work.  I on a daily basis work with undocumented students, so it’s not uncommon that I have worked with some students from that organization.  We are very welcoming at UTSA for our undocumented population.  We hope that we can help them in any way possible achieve their educational goals.