For many of us on either side of the desk, working with undocumented students presents quite the challenge. We seem to have more questions than answers. What do we do if a student tells us they are undocumented? Do we have the resources to assist them? Do we know the resources? How do we advise them in regards to funding their college education? AB540? Dream Act?
Many would agree that undocumented students have been invisible in higher education until recent years, a population we have always known to be in our classrooms, but also one institutions have not openly addressed and supported. Just recently colleges and universities are making great strides in addressing the specific needs of undocumented students through programs and services and are also more willing to publically acknowledge and share their plans. The University of California, San Diego is currently in the process of hiring a new Undocumented Student Support Center Coordinator who, according to the job posting, will be tasked with “the recruitment, development, enrichment, inclusion, retention, and student experience of the UC San Diego undocumented student population.” The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article last week which highlights UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student program, one of the first of its kind in the country.

Undocumented students didn’t just magically appear in our schools and in our admission processes, in fact, this population has struggled for years trying to make their dream of attending college in the country they call home, a reality. Undocumented students face significant hurdles from the time they apply to college, through the time they graduate and begin the job search. So why is it that we are just now openly talking about this population of students? Why have we waited so long to create programs, centers and services that will address the specific needs of these students? I have a few theories but I’m not sure any one of them is the sole culprit. What I do know is that it is a complicated issue to discuss and address. “It’s complicated,” however, doesn’t relieve us of our responsibilities as educators to serve the needs of all of our students, including this population. I must admit that this is one of the populations of students I often feel ill-equipped to advise, (especially when it comes to financial aid). I have a feeling many of you may feel the same. We want to help, but how?

Well for starters, I am excited to see that several schools are taking the lead in creating programs and centers that address the specific needs of this student population. In California you may have heard of Assembly Bill 540 (AB540 students) which allows undocumented students who have met several requirements be exempted from paying out-of-state tuition. The California Dream Act may also sound familiar. This act allows certain students, to apply for and receive state financial aid while attending public and private colleges in California. This is a great start but there is still more work to be done.

Each of us on our respective campuses can benefit from ongoing discussions and training on how our institutions review undocumented students in the application and admission process and support them once they enroll at our institutions. Our office recently had a training session which introduced AB540 and the Dream Act as well as talked about key people on our campus that we can look to for guidance, and resources that we can give our students.

I would love to write a 50-page paper on the topic as there is so much more to be said, however, I am reminded that this is a blog and not a dissertation! I would like to leave you with a few resources that are easy to navigate and provide great information on some of the things I’ve only briefly mentioned:

For more on the California Dream Act please visit

For more on the AB540 law please visit

“Berkeley Gives Hope to The Undocumented” by Libby Sander can be accessed at

Great website that compiles scholarship opportunities for undocumented students

For our colleagues outside of California, please visit your state department of education for more information or feel free to share resources in the comments below.

By Diana Moreno