Across the country, students are welcome in the public education system through a limited decision of the US Supreme Court in 1982, which guarantees every student a basic K-12 education, regardless of their immigration status.
After graduation, for undocumented students who want to attend college, the rules change drastically.
The term “undocumented” student refers to students who live in the United States without documentation to verify they have American citizenship or legal residence. Undocumented students often face additional obstacles when acquiring a higher education.
According to the IPEDF report, this is a federal report that brakes down the ethnicity for every student, out of 32,831 students that registered for fall 2009 semester, 2,847 reported to be of Hispanic ethnicity, that is 8.67 percent. Out of 3,215 students that graduated from SLCC in years 2008 and 2009, 171 students were reported to be of Hispanic ethnicity.
Undocumented students cannot legally receive any federally funded student financial aid, including loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.
Student Fernanda Gomez is unsure if she will have enough money for next spring or even to finish school.
“I work about 35 hours a week and go to school full time, my GPA is 3.7 but I am starting to realize that all these efforts and hard work have earned me nothing! I can’t even get a scholarship or apply for financial aid,” Gomez said.
The need for higher education has increased substantially because it allows students to have more options for careers and more opportunities to be employed.
The college experience allows students to perform their responsibilities, achieve greater independence and build a more powerful and diverse social network.
Not only do college graduates typically earn more than high school graduates, but statewide, college graduates add over $450 million annually to Utah’s economy in increased wages and taxes contributions over those with only a high school diploma, repeating each year those graduates are employed thereafter.
“I have many dreams, get my master’s degree in business, then travel the world and ride on an elephant one day, but I know it will be hard for me, I just want to have a better life and overcome all obstacles because for me education comes first,” Gomez said.
The College Boards Education Advocacy and Policy Center found 67 percent of Hispanic students still owe money after graduation. At the average college or university, 51 percent of Hispanic students earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 59 percent of white students, according to a March study by the American Enterprise Institute.
“As time goes by I see my dreams being destroyed and maybe ruined,” Gomez says. “But I will not give up, my family and I have made tremendous sacrifices so that I can get to where I want in life and achieve my dreams.”
Changes may be coming. The Dream Act is a federal bill that would provide the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who entered the country as minors.
“Education should not be a privilege but an opportunity provided equally to everyone,” said Gomez.