By Gabrielle Dorsey
In 2012, President Obama created a program known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which promised to change the game for undocumented students. While there are several qualifications and restrictions for the program, generally speaking, it allowed undocumented individuals who had arrived to the United States prior to their sixteenth birthday to access certain rights and benefits previously unavailable to them, such as employment authorization, among others. It also opened up the opportunity for undocumented students to seek college admission at universities that may have been previously out of reach due to financial need; with public universities in twenty states allowing students with DACA status to pay in-state tuition- a big benefit since federal funding is not available to them.
At the time DACA began, I was working as an admission officer and did not see change occurring in my own office. Like many universities, we reviewed undocumented students as international students, as we would any student who did not have U.S. citizenship; and because were private, we did not fall under the umbrella of state decisions and in-state tuition options. It was difficult to swallow that we had little to offer the undocumented students in our own backyard, and my colleagues and I complained every year. We all knew that simply by the nature of their categorization as international students, the road to admission was more difficult for undocumented students: we were need-blind for U.S. citizens, but need-aware for international students. At the time, funding for non-citizens was extremely limited, in the form of scholarship, and as one of the members of the committee who decided to whom that money should be distributed, I really grappled with the implications of the message we were sending undocumented students, particularly from our state.
By the time I became a college counselor in 2014, it seemed as though little had changed. My colleagues across the nation and I still faced steep challenges while helping undocumented students find college options and it often seemed like few opportunities existed especially depending on the quality of the student. At the time, I felt lucky that we had few undocumented students at my own school in California. However, in recent weeks, I have noticed a handful of schools make a point to highlight their policies for undocumented students, DACA or otherwise. Schools, such as Dartmouth, now have a dedicated webpage that is easy to find within the Admission site for undocumented students, and offer institutional aid for admissible students who need it. A recent article from Rice University caught my attention when they released an article in late August titled, “Admission, financial aid policy clarified for undocumented students.” It was a relief to see so many schools making a concerted effort to be more accessible to students who have often felt shut out of this process. In Rice’s case, the decision to review undocumented students as domestic students with the benefit of need-blind review came after the president and provost had several positive discussions with members of the Students of Color Collective during the last year. I couldn’t help but smile.
New doors are continuing to open for undocumented students in ways they haven’t in the past, but it’s still a confusing process and counseling is still tricky, as it takes a bit more digging to find out each college or university’s policies. Rice’s article made me wonder how I might encourage my own students to present their ideas and enact real change, and perhaps, how we as counselors and admission officers alike might work together to continue to forge ahead in creating access for undocumented students.
Gabrielle Dorsey is the Associate Director of College Counseling at Marin Academy, where she also serves as an advisor to the Black Student Union and is a member of the Diversity Council. She has previously worked in undergraduate admission at both American University and Rice University. She has a BA in Spanish and Creative Writing from University of Miami as well as an MA in International Communication with concentrations in International Education and Intercultural Relations from American University. She is a lover of warm weather, travel, dance and college football.