How do we effectively serve undocumented students? That is a question many student affairs professionals have found themselves asking in the last decade or so. In attempting to serve this subpopulation of students, many of use have been troubled by polices enacted at the federal, state and institutional levels. In order to effectively serve these students we must rethink our polices, our campus environments, and how student affairs professionals are working to increase their multicultural awareness, knowledge and skills.
Access to education for undocumented students has been a major topic of discussions for the past decade now, and understandably so. The number of undocumented students graduating from high school annually is over 50,000 and a growing number of them are looking to pursue higher education, but are facing significant barriers.
Beyond lacking information about college options and readiness, undocumented students are limited most by three things: admissions eligibility, access to state, federal and institutional financial aid, and access to tuition equity (in-state tuition). All of which are influence by the policies and/or laws enacted at the federal, state and institutional levels. No federal or state law is currently in place that prohibits undocumented students from enrolling at our institutions, it’s our institutions and their governing bodies themselves that prohibit these students from enrolling. Then when undocumented students get to our institutions, many are asked to pay an out-of-state tuition rate, though graduating from an in-state high school. That coupled with unfriendly campus environments and a lack of multicultural awareness, knowledge and skills among student affairs professionals makes effectively serving undocumented students a daunting task.
There is a dire need for comprehensive legislation outlining undocumented students admissions, in-state tuition and financial aid eligibility, but there is also a need for us as students affairs professionals to rethink how we advise, help and mentor undocumented students. Like with many of our other subpopulations of students, this group has a diverse set of needs. These students enroll at our institutions from a wide range of backgrounds and family situations. These students have varying levels of ability, communication styles, learning styles, and financial and academic needs. We cannot have a one-size fits all approach, applying doses of theory here and there thinking we are effectively serving these students. We must be aware, knowledgeable, skillful and intentional when working with all students, especially those from historically underrepresented backgrounds. We must take time to learn about individual students, their goals and their needs, in order to best serve them. Most important, we must ensure we are working to create inclusive environments that acknowledge and appreciate difference, respect the autonomy of students, is welcoming, and prioritizes the success of all students.
Serving undocumented students is an easy task, doing it effectively is where many struggle. At times federal, state and institutional polices have a way of tying our hands and hindering our ability to create inclusive environments and support these students, but it is still possible. Yes, we must address the policies surrounding undocumented students access to education, but we also must equip ourselves and other staff members to work with these students. Student affairs professional must embody all the awareness, knowledge, and skills of a multiculturally competent professional if they hope to effectively serve undocumented students.
Jammie Lee Jelks, Admissions and Enrollment Services, Terra State Community College. This article was developed in response to a recent #SAChat on Serving Undocumented Students using information previous gathered and used to do an issue brief on policies impacting undocumented students’ access to education. The views in this piece do not represent that of my employer, Terra State Community College, but myself.