As an undocumented or immigrant student, you have the right to a public school education, and the right to apply to the college of your choice. But you may also face a number of legal, financial and practical challenges at you look for the right school. Online college may help to offset some of these challenges, or, at the very least, it can provide you with flexibility and convenience while you navigate a new courses, a new community, or even a new country.
Challenges Facing Undocumented Students
Undocumented students are legally entitled to attend public school and apply to colleges, regardless of legal status. Roughly 65,000 undocumented students take advantage of this right by graduating from American high schools every year. However, fewer than 10% of these students will continue into college. Even fewer will complete college and earn a degree.
There are a lot of reasons for this enormous drop-off from high school graduation to college enrollment:
- Undocumented students are usually not eligible for federal financial aid, and therefore must find alternate ways to finance a college education.
- Some states won’t admit undocumented students into community or public schools, which are often among the more affordable and accessible options.
- Some private colleges, regardless of state, won’t admit undocumented students as a matter of school policy.
- While state financial aid, scholarships, advocacy groups, and other resources exist to support undocumented students, language barriers, cultural isolation, and fear of legal complications often prevent immigrants from seeking, being aware of, or knowing how to access such resources.
- Constantly changing federal law, particularly the inconsistency surrounding the DREAM Act, DACA and the Trump era rollbacks, have cast the legal status of immigrants and undocumented students — many of whom have lived in the United States nearly their entire lives — into uncertainty and legal turmoil.
- Some undocumented students may not even be aware that they are eligible to attend colleges and universities in the United States.
For more on America’s ever-shifting immigration laws and policies, check out Undocumented Students, DACA, and the Law: Key Legislation.
And for more on your rights as an undocumented student and an immigrant American — including state-specific restrictions and accommodations — check out Undocumented Students: Know Your Rights.
Otherwise, read on to find out how online college can help you overcome some of these challenges:
Benefits of Online College
Online college allows you to attend your courses remotely and earn a reputable degree from the comfort of your own residence, coffee shop, or local library. But as an undocumented student, finding the right online college can offer a few additional advantages that are worth considering, including:
The ability to take classes from a safe and private location
Undocumented students who live in regions or municipalities where the risk of enforcement confrontation is greater can enjoy the security and anonymity of learning from home. Online college opens doors without presenting the risks that can come with travel or relocation.
Access to schools outside your state of residence
If you live in a state that has greater restrictions around your ability to apply to or access schools, one solution is to apply to an online college based in a different state. The same is true if you live in an area — urban, rural, or border-region — with limited higher education options.
The ability to space out your courses while balancing other practical, legal, and financial challenges
It’s also a good way to dip your toe into higher education without being immersed in campus life and all its related cultural and linguistic challenges. Online college gives you an opportunity to focus exclusively on your education and your pursuit of a degree.
Affordable options regardless of financial aid eligibility
Online college can help to counteract the absence of federal financial aid (and the absence of state aid, depending on where you live) for undocumented students. Traditional college campuses come with meal plans, housing options, and expensive amenities. Students bear the brunt of these costs. Most online colleges dispense with these costs, providing you with leaner and more cost-effective learning options. This means that online college offers a number of different paths to an education, credits and degrees at a fraction of the cost of a traditional college. In fact, below, we’ll explore a few ways that you can receive an online education tuition-free, and in some cases, free of charges altogether.
These unique qualities make online college an attractive avenue for undocumented students facing any combination of legal, practical, and financial challenges. With shifting laws and policies presenting an increasingly uncertain outlook for undocumented students, the ability to attend an online college from anywhere in the United States is becoming an ever-more appealing option.
Begin your search by checking out our list of the 50 Best Online Colleges for 2019. These schools offer some of the greatest flexibility and the best value for your money.
And because the cost of college will most definitely be a factor if you aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, check out The 50 Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees.
For a comprehensive look at everything you’ll need to know about online college, visit The Online Colleges Source, where you’ll find:
- Resources for Online College Students
- Online Degree Program Rankings
- Best Online Colleges by State
- Frequently Asked Questions About Online Colleges and Online Education
Or read on to check out . . .
Unique Online Opportunities
Tuition Free Online Schools
Because many undocumented students lack access to federal financial aid and in-state tuition discounts, finding affordable ways to earn a quality education and degree can be challenging. A number of tuition-free online schools have emerged to help you confront this challenge. While tuition-free schools may not necessarily be entirely free of charge, the tuition itself is free. This means that other fees and expenses can be funded at a lower cost, creating greater access for students with financial and practical challenges
Check out The Best Colleges Providing Free Tuition for a look at some of the schools leading the way in this area.
Innovative Online Models
University of the People
UOP is a stellar example of how the tuition-free approach can be put to innovative use to help undocumented students. University of the People describes itself as the first accredited, non-profit, tuition free online university in the United States, and is dedicated to creating opportunities and access for high school graduates the world over, particularly those working to “overcome financial, geographic, political, and personal constraints keeping them from collegiate studies.”
In fact, University of the People even provides full scholarships for students who are unable to meet the financial threshold for basic fees and expenses. Through its relationships with highly reputable universities, private companies, and renowned academics, University of the People is making meaningful college credits more readily accessible to undocumented students.
Modern States oversees a program called Freshman Year for Free, in which students can choose tuition-free online courses from a catalog of more than 40 core college first-year subjects. Participating professors from leading universities instruct in courses that qualify for traditional academic credits at over 2,900 colleges and universities. This is an excellent point of entry for undocumented students who are looking to get a foot in the academic door. And because Modern States gives you access to valid college credits, this program could put you in a good position to transfer to a two- or four-year program when ready.
Massive Open Online Courses
MOOCs are an option if you’re greatest priority is to gain subject-specific education that you may be able to apply in a practical, professional or complimentary educational setting. MOOCs may be offered by a wide spectrum of institutions, from exclusively online colleges and traditional universities to private companies and consumer research groups. In most cases, you may earn a certification, but you will rarely earn academic credits without already being enrolled in the university sponsoring your course. This also means that MOOCs are not a direct route to a degree.
However, MOOCs are a great way to access instruction, materials, and a community of other learners in an area of that interests you. MOOCs are usually loosely organized and self-paced, which means you’ll be in control of your level of involvement. But for either a nominal fee or no cost at all, you will have a chance to learn a subject or subjects in greater detail. This could have practical applications in preparing for further education, a job, or a career. And the best part of MOOCs is that you usually have almost nothing to lose by checking one out!
Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI)
- Hispanic Serving Institutions [PDF] (HSIs) are accredited colleges and universities that serve student bodies with a greater than 25% Hispanic student population. The designation was officially established by Congress in 1992 in order to earmark federal grant funding for the advancement of schools with large Hispanic populations. Federal funding may be used for purposes that include faculty development, administrative management, development of academic programs and curriculum, teaching equipment, renovation, counseling, tutoring, and student support. HSIs may be particularly sympathetic to and accommodating of your needs if you are an undocumented student of Hispanic background. HSIs may be either two-year or four-year programs, and many offer online courses and degrees. Check here for complete list of HSIs as of the 2016–2017 academic year [PDF].
- The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) is also a great resource for exploring HSIs. The HACU is the leading association of HSIs and the organization responsible for helping to create the HSI designation through advocacy and political action. In addition to these activities, the HACU helps to provide scholarships, create job opportunities, and provide critical education and information on issues impacting Hispanic Americans and, specifically, Hispanic students. If you are an undocumented student of Hispanic background, consider reaching out to the HACU for tips on how to navigate the HSI landscape for the very best opportunities.
Community College is another great and affordable option for undocumented students. Community Colleges are public two-year institutions, typically conferring associate degrees and often ranking among the most affordable ways to access a college degree. An associate degree can be a point of entry into a wide range of careers or it could be a cost-effective way to accumulate credits before transferring to a four-year college and earning a bachelor’s degree.
If you are a DACA-recipient, you have the right to apply to any Community College in your vicinity. And many Community Colleges offer online degrees, which means you will likely have the opportunity to choose between traditional or online classes if you take the Community College path.
If you are not a DACA-recipient, you may still have the right to apply to your local Community College. However, this will depend on your state of residence. While many states welcome you to apply to and attend public colleges at the same cost as native-born students, other states may have restrictions. View our guide to your rights as an undocumented student for a state-by-state look at the laws impacting your access.
The good news is that even for undocumented students without DACA status, online community colleges and other associate degree-granting colleges offer access even to students living in more restrictive states.
For a look at your options, check out The 50 Best Community Colleges in the United States.
Click here to learn more about earning an associate degree.
Return to our Undocumented Students Guide to College for more essential tips, links, and resources.