States’ DREAM Acts Could Deter High School Dropouts

Making college more affordable may encourage undocumented students to finish high school.

By Kelsey Sheehy

Courtesy of iSTOCKPHOTO

An estimated 700,000 K-12 students, including 150,000 high schoolers, stand to benefit from President Obama’s executive order last month to halt deportations of some undocumented youth. While the policy ensures young immigrants will not be deported for at least two years if they meet certain requirements—age, education, time in the United States, and clean criminal records—it stops short of the benefits proposed in the DREAM Act.

Originally introduced in 2001, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act provides a path to citizenship for undocumented students who entered the United States as children if they graduate from high school, earn a GED, or are accepted to or enrolled in college.

The most recent version of the DREAM Act does not give undocumented students access to educational benefits such as federal financial aid until they become U.S. citizens, and gives states the option to choose whether undocumented students meet the residency requirements for in-state college tuition. The bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate in May 2011, but neither side voted on the legislation.

[Find out what scholarships are available for immigrants.]

Twelve states have enacted their own versions of the DREAM Act and offer in-state tuition for undocumented students—often referred to as DREAMers—including Texas, New York, and California, which have the highest concentration of undocumented immigrants, according to a 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Utah, Washington, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Connecticut also allow DREAMers to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Maryland passed a law in 2011 allowing some undocumented students to receive in-state tuition provided they attend a community college for two years before transferring to a four-year state college. The law has yet to take effect, and is pending a voter referendum in November.

In Texas, undocumented students are also eligible for state-funded financial aid for college. Starting in 2013, undocumented students in California will also be eligible for state aid, and those considered low-income will qualify for community college fee waivers. A bill in New York proposing similar options failed to make it out of the state Senate last month.

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