Mar 4, 2013

Jesuit Colleges and Universities assume Leadership Role supporting Undocumented Students

Santa Clara University

On the eve of upcoming JET college fairs scheduled this week for Baltimore and Washington DC, Jesuit colleges and universities made big news for reaffirming their commitment to support immigrant students regardless of citizenship status in a paper released last week just as Congress begins working on immigration policy.

Following a study funded by the Ford Foundation and conducted by research teams from Fairfield University, Loyola University Chicago, and Santa Clara University, more than two dozen Jesuit colleges and universities pledged a return to their founding missions and vowed to help immigrant students who are in the country illegally.

"At the heart of the Immigrant Student National Position Paper is a call for improved institutional practices at Jesuit institutions in the United States to help these young people flourish on campus and off," said Project Leader Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., director of Fairfield’s Center for Faith and Public Life. "Ultimately, this project presents a way of proceeding on this area of immigration that informs and helps shape the national educational discourse.”

The 39-page study estimated that approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American highs schools every year, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as young children by parents who either overstayed visas or entered the country illegally.  They face a variety of obstacles getting to college as first-generation applicants unfamiliar with the process and fearful of divulging information about their immigration status.

And ineligible for federal or state financial aid, they have few options to pay for college.  For many, the only solution involves the very few scholarship opportunities targeted to undocumented students (Santa Clara University is believed to be the only Jesuit college with such a scholarship).

As a result, only five to ten percent of undocumented students enter postsecondary education.

Accompanying the paper, a one-page statement signed by 25 of the 28 presidents of Jesuit colleges outlines the official AJCU (Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) position on immigrant students who are here illegally.  The statement includes a vow “to support our students—both documented citizens and not” and underscores that member institutions will “stand in solidarity with migrants, regardless of their immigration status.”

In addition, the Immigrant Student Nation Position Paper recommends that Jesuit colleges:

  • Clearly and publicly articulate on websites and elsewhere that they provide access for all students, including the undocumented.
  • Designate specific admissions staff to be responsible for working with applicants who are undocumented.
  • Provide training for admissions staff so they understand and can help undocumented students through the admissions process.
  • Modify application forms so as to be clear that a student does not have to include a social security number or citizenship status to apply.
  • Clearly identify financial aid that is available for undocumented students and maintain a list of all scholarships intended for these students.
  • Explore the creation of a “Common Fund” to provide financial aid to undocumented students at all Jesuit colleges and universities.
  • Design specific staff to support immigrant students and identify legal resources to provide counseling for these students.
  • Create a database of alumni who were undocumented or who can assist immigrant students with post-graduate careers.

You can learn more about Jesuit colleges and universities by attending a JET (Jesuit Excellence Tour) College Night in your area.  Over the next couple of months, events are scheduled in Baltimore, DC, Buffalo, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, New York City, and the Pacific Northwest.

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