Today: Jun 18, 2024

Closing the educational gap

Steve Miller, Opinions Editor-

Undocumented students benefit from local initiatives –

Growing up in a city and attending public schools, my classmates were, of course, diverse. Throughout my school years I never noticed a distinction between those students who were born in the United States and those whose families immigrated here bringing their children to the U.S. at a young age in search of a better life. 

Isn’t that what the “American Dream” is all about? My parents are immigrants who came to this country to take advantage of that dream, hoping that one day their children would take advantage of the opportunities the U.S. has to offer. 

I didn’t think about my classmates in terms of their citizenship, only paying mind to that detail when graduation rolled around and my friends faced a hurdle on their path to success. 

The difference between those students and me was that my birth certificate indicates that I had been born here, while theirs are foreign. They are, however, every bit as American as I am. 

These students and their families might still be living in the U.S. illegally, but I don’t think it’s fair to punish these students for their parents’ decision to immigrate, which as children, they had no control over. 

Undocumented students who attend colleges and universities have to pay out-of-state tuition rates because they are not considered legal residents of Connecticut. Additionally, because of their status, undocumented students do not qualify for state or federal financial aid. 

In this economy, we are all struggling just to pay in-state rates. Paying double or more for the same education their counterparts pay without much help limits these students’ higher education opportunities. 

On the national level, legislators are working to provide hope for these students through the DREAM Act, which would allow temporary citizenship for undocumented students pursuing higher education or serving in the military. The bill failed in its most recent vote, last December. 

Despite the setbacks in seeing the national DREAM realized, I can’t help but feel proud to live in a State that seems to acknowledge these students and their struggles. A couple of local initiatives make education more accessible for undocumented students. 

In November, New Haven and state officials announced the New Haven Promise program, which would give students scholarships to attend the state’s two- or four- year colleges and universities. New Haven’s current freshman high school students, the class of 2014, could be eligible for a free ride in college. 

The first class to benefit, this year’s graduating seniors will get up to 25 percent of their tuition paid; up to 50 percent for the following class, and 75 percent for the class after that. The program provides more aid for students attending public colleges, but private universities are also included. 

Students must attend the New Haven public schools, including the public charter schools to be eligible for the scholarships, funded by Yale University. High school students must retain a 3.0 grade point average, achieve 90 percent attendance during high school, have a positive disciplinary record and complete 40 hours of community service. 

Undocumented students are also covered under the Promise, with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano making it clear that no student would be excluded from the scholarship as long as they qualify. 

Relating to this initiative, legislators are working to see an in-state tuition bill passed, allowing students who are undocumented to attend the public state colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. 

Currently, 11 states have similar laws that mandate in-state tuition rates for residents. 

Although I am not directly affected by this issue, I can’t help but feel for these students who are simply looking to better their lives through education and are denied the opportunity because of the circumstance of their birth. 

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