As tuition and related fees skyrocket, finding ways to keep a college degree within reach for anyone willing to work toward one is imperative. Offering every high school student access to college-level courses while in high school is one critical way to do so.
Students who are able to take college-level courses, through Advanced Placement or dual enrollment, can get a head start on college — entering with credits in hand that reduce their tuition costs and shorten their path to a degree.
The courses can also provide a confidence boost to young adults uncertain whether college is for them.
Yet undocumented students, often called Dreamers, are too often excluded from such coursework, particularly dual enrollment.
This lack of access to dual enrollment is just one of the persistent barriers that immigrant students encounter in their pursuit of higher education and career success.
In some instances, state tuition and financial aid policies explicitly exclude undocumented students; in others, length of residency requirements exclude recent immigrants, recent reporting by The Hechinger Report revealed.
Undocumented students are eligible for admissions and aid in a growing number of states, including 24 that offer in-state tuition and 18 that provide state aid to undocumented students. Yet too many other states limit undocumented students’ access to in-state tuition or even enrollment in public institutions.
Advocating for policy change is essential. Too often, though, that advocacy for the future overshadows immediate opportunities to expand Dreamers’ college access despite state and local policies.
It is just as important to elevate the visibility of these opportunities so that today’s learners can strengthen their own futures and the futures of their communities and the workforce.
The philanthropy Modern States Education Alliance, whose mission is to make college accessible and affordable for all, has for several years worked with TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college and career success program for undocumented immigrant youth, to ensure that undocumented students are not left out of free precollege opportunities.
Modern States offers a library of 32 online courses is designed to teach learners what they need to know to pass the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. Nearly 3,000 colleges and universities accept passing scores on CLEP exams for college credit, in much the same way they accept passing grades in Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses. Modern States explicitly serves all people, including Dreamers, with some 500,000 registered users.
The organization has made 150,000 CLEP exams free for learners so far — with every 10 exams passed equivalent to one free year of college.
Too often, advocacy for the future overshadows immediate opportunities to expand Dreamers’ college access.
Through partnership with TheDream.US, Modern States has already provided multiple years’ worth of free college for Dreamers.
This approach complements the core scholarship program at TheDream.US, which provides exceptional opportunities to participating students but has nowhere near enough resources to support the college aspirations of all undocumented high schoolers.
Our work is an example of the type of multifaceted strategy that we as a nation require to address the needs of an increasingly large and integral group of students in our higher education system.
Immigrant-origin students, inclusive of Dreamers, comprised 31 percent of college students in 2021, a significant rise from 20 percent in 2000, a recent report based on data from the Migration Policy Institute found.
As the population of immigrant-origin students in college grows, maintaining barriers to their success is increasingly damaging to individuals and our nation. Let’s commit to removing those barriers and creating opportunity for all learners.
And in the meantime, let’s not forget the ways we can support young people now, so that today’s learners do not miss their shot at the life they want to live.
Chris Aviles is the senior program manager, Partner College and Scholar Supports, for TheDream.US. Jefferson Pestronk serves as executive director of Modern States Education Alliance. The organizations have partnered since 2018 to support Dreamers in their quest for an affordable and equitable education.
This story about Dreamers and college was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.