Undocumented: Tiny Numbers, Huge Issue
When a Jordan-Matthews student raised his hand, he also
raised one of the most contentious issues in the state today.
“If you’re undocumented and you
want to apply to UNC, what should you
do?” he asked when University officials
visited the Siler City high school in
Chancellor James Moeser’s answer was
immediate and emphatic. “You should
apply,” he said. “If you get in, we’ll bend
heaven and earth to find a way to help
Since 2004, the 16-campus UNC System has allowed graduates of U.S. high
schools who do not have citizenship or
permanent residency papers to be considered for admission. System policy specifies
that such students may not receive state or
federal financial aid in the form of grants
or loans, must be charged out-of-state
tuition and must be included in the 18
percent cap on out-of-state freshmen.
Campuses also must take into account
federal prohibitions against granting professional licenses to undocumented aliens.
Possibly because of the higher tuition
requirement and higher admissions standard — out-of-state admission is much
more competitive than in-state — the
number of undocumented students
attending system schools is tiny. According
to Moeser, “a handful, two, three, four” are
enrolled at Chapel Hill today. Here and
elsewhere, the vast majority of undocumented students come from families without college experience.
In December, the UNC Tomorrow
Commission set off a flurry of controversy
when it recommended that the UNC
System examine whether undocumented
graduates of in-state high schools who
qualify for admission to system campuses
should be charged in-state tuition. Opponents argue that giving such students easier access to college would encourage illegal immigration and boost competition
for limited seats and financial aid.
System President Erskine Bowles ’ 67
said in December that he finds the federal
government’s approach to educating
undocumented children “completely illogical.” Federal law mandates that states must
provide them with a free K- 12 education
but “takes a complete dive on whether we
should offer these same children access to
public higher education,” he said. He
pointed out that Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of North Carolina’s
population and a large part of its future
work force. By 2017, the UNC Tomorrow
Commission reports, there will be 30,000
additional high school graduates in North
Carolina, of whom 22,000 will be Hispanic.
“If they are not educated, we run the
risk of creating another permanent under-
class,” Bowles said. “Without education,
they will become a drain on society. With
education, they have a chance to be productive members of our communities.” He
stressed that the UNC Tomorrow Commission recommended that the UNC System investigate the social, legal and economic issues connected with offering
undocumented students in-state tuition.
“We will do this research,” he said.
“Until that research is finished, we will
not make any recommendation for or
against this proposal.”
Moeser and Admissions Director Steve
Farmer emphasize that UNC scrupulously
follows state and federal law.
“But if we admit one of these [undoc-umented] students, we try to find private
funds” for financial aid, Moeser said.
In 2005, the N.C. General Assembly
considered but did not pass a new law that
would have permitted certain undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
According to the College Board, 10 other
states — Texas, California, New York,
Utah, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, New
Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas — charge
in-state rates to undocumented students
who meet certain conditions. Texas and
Oklahoma allow those who qualify for in-state tuition to apply for state financial aid.
Since 2001, the U.S. Congress periodically has considered a proposed federal
measure called the DREAM Act that
The Scholars’ Latino Initiative came
about after Peter Kaufman heard a piece
on public radio about high-achieving,
driven students at Jordan-Matthews who
had no chance to go to college.
“I’m coordinator of the Johnston Scholars’ Program here, and I live in North
Chatham,” Kaufman said. “I have [under-graduate] students with the drive to give
back and do public service. There was a
reservoir of talent here.”
Kaufman and others approached admissions officials at UNC and other selective
colleges, including Elon, Amherst and Smith,
to find out what was keeping talented Latino
and Latina high school students from meet-
ing their admissions standards. They were
surprised to find these students’ lack of challenging courses, rather than their SAT scores
and GPAs, was the first bar.
“Then it was public service,” Kaufman
said. Because many of these students have
work or family obligations, or both, and
because Jordan-Matthews, unlike many
high schools that send a lot of students to
college, doesn’t require volunteer service,
many of its seniors had none to show.
The students may face additional hurdles. One student’s parents don’t understand why she’d want to go to college
when she’s just going to get married and
raise a family, Kaufman said. Some parents
‘It’s not a matter
of being Latino, but these are
kids who’ve experienced poverty
in a way relatively few folks do.
They’re kids who are structuring
their lives in a way
that’s alien to their parents.’
religious studies professor