Pending federal legislation that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated 360,000 undocumented high school graduates is receiving the support of the College Board, the organization that administers the SATs and counts 5,000 schools as members.
James Montoya, vice president of the College Board, announced today that the board is backing the Dream Act so that more students can attend college. Each year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, and only 5 to 10 percent pursue a college degree, says a report released by the College Board. Many of these students don't attend college because federal law prevents them from working and receiving any aid for higher education.
The Dream Act would allow students who have lived in the country since age 15 to apply for conditional legal residence after graduating from high school. They would then be able to work and pay in-state college tuition rates. Those who attend college or join the military could ultimately become citizens. The College Board says that in addition to helping the estimated 360,000 undocumented students of college age now, the Dream Act could open the doors to higher ed for 715,000 more students between the ages of 5 and 17 who are living in the country illegally.
This is the first time the College Board has taken an official position on the divisive issue. Its call for federal action comes as several states have passed legislation barring undocumented students from paying in-state college tuition rates. Some states, including South Carolina and Alabama, prohibit illegal immigrants from enrolling in their public colleges.
Opponents say the Dream Act could encourage more illegal immigration. They also worry that there will be fewer college slots and less financial aid for legal citizens at a time when families are strapped and colleges are raising tuition.
Ten states have passed laws since 2001 allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees, and none have experienced a large influx of immigrants who have displaced native students, according to the College Board report. "In fact, these measures tend to increase school revenues by bringing in tuition from students who otherwise would not be in college," the report says.
During the briefing where the College Board announced its support for the Dream Act, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a cosponsor of the legislation, said it was "un-American" to keep shutting out of college students who didn't have a say in their parents' choice to enter the country illegally. He stressed that the Dream Act does not lower admissions criteria or make more aid disproportionately available for undocumented students. "Let's be clear; this is not an open door or a free ride," he said. "They still have to pay tuition, pay taxes, and follow the law."
Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, who is also a sponsor of the legislation, expressed great confidence and optimism that the bill will be signed into law after many unsuccessful attempts in previous years. He pointed to the support from key leaders in Congress, including Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, as well as the president, who cosponsored a similar bill as a senator. President Obama is expected to take up comprehensive immigration reform later this year.
Tell us what you think about the Dream Act. Should illegal immigrant students be able to attend college, pay in-state tuition rates, and have the opportunity to ultimately become citizens? And what do you make of the College Board's decision to support legalizing undocumented students?