Florida Trend NEXT: Resources for Undocumented Students

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Jackie Garcia* graduated from an Orlando high school in May 2007, but the honor roll student can’t afford to pay for out-of-state tuition at the local community college.

Although Jackie has lived in the United States since she was a young girl, she has to pay out-of-state tuition because of her undocumented status.

Jackie is not alone.

Around “4,000-5,000 undocumented students that graduate from Florida schools each year are limited to applying for privately-funded scholarships to pay for post-secondary education and training,” says Brigita Gahr, Coordinator of Migrant Secondary Education Projects at the Florida Migrant Interstate Program.

Only 1 out of every 20 undocumented high school seniors attends college. Undocumented students who are accepted to Florida’s community colleges and state universities are classified as non-residents and are required to pay out-of-state tuition.

In addition to not being eligible for federal student financial aid, undocumented students are unable to receive Florida Bright Futures Scholarships because they are not considered eligible non-citizens by their institutions.

“Although I do know a few undocumented students that have managed to acquire enough scholarship awards to cover their postsecondary expenses, most students in this situation cannot come up with enough money to continue their education beyond high school,” Gahr says.

This is true for Jackie, too. Unable to pay for classes to work toward becoming a nurse, Jackie currently works full-time as a waitress.

The DREAM Act is part of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation introduced into the U.S. Congress recently. If passed, this legislation will benefit many deserving undocumented students by allowing them to continue their education or serve in the U.S. military, and eventually earn permanent resident status.

“Ten states have passed legislation that base residency for tuition purposes on proof that a student has attended their state high schools for several years and graduated in that state, instead of requesting documents proving legal residency,” Gahr says. “Although in-state tuition legislation has been introduced in the Florida Congress, it has never passed out of committee for a floor vote.”

So what are students like Jackie to do?

The best strategy is to look for scholarships that do not require proof of permanent resident or U.S. citizen status. Many community colleges and universities offer private scholarships that do not require that applicants be U.S. citizens.

Carolina Sodre, a graduate from the University of Florida, paid for most of her education through scholarships from the National Science Foundation.

“These were based on writing papers and creating posters related to science,” Sodre says. “Even if the awards are only $100 or $150, they add up.”

Students without social security numbers should contact the financial aid director of the institution to which they are applying for instructions on how to complete certain foundation scholarship applications.

Scholarships for Undocumented Students

Afree scholarship search engine

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)

MALDEF’s list of scholarships for undocumented students

MALDEF’s law school scholarship

Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund (SALEF) scholarship

Latino College Dollars directory of scholarships

Scholarship directory courtesy of U.S. congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard

Harvest of Hope Foundation

Path to Scholarships list of scholarships

Path to Scholarships Fund application.

Hispanic College Fund (HCF) Scholars Program

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF).

Omega Delta Phi Fraternity, Inc.’s Future Leader of Tomorrow Scholarship.

Scholarships administered by the The Geneseo Migrant Center

127 Scholarships listing courtesy of Latinos in Information Science and Technology Association (LISTA)

Migrant Student Scholarships compiled by Brigita Gahr, January, 2007

USC Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis “College & Financial Aid Guide for AB540 Undocumented Immigrant Students”

Guide to Scholarships for New Americans and Minorities

Listing of scholarships for undocumented students

Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s scholarship page


Scholarships are offered by the Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Contact the chamber for more info.
Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
10051 McGregor Boulevard Suite 204
Fort Myers, FL 33919
Phone: 239-418-1441
Fax: 239-418-1475
E-mail: hispanicchamber.lg@earthlink.net

More Information

Fact sheet about undocumented students

FinAid.org’s information about financial aid for undocumented students

FinAid.org’s Financial aid information in Spanish

An interview with Israel Cortez, Adolescent Outreach Specialist at the Georgia Department of Education

¡ENLACE FLORIDA! Newsletter July-August 2007
Should Undocumented Students be Allowed to Pay In-State College Tuition?

The National Association for College Admission Counseling webpage about the DREAM Act

National Immigration Law Center’s webpage about the DREAM Act

National Council of La Raza’s webpage on the DREAM Act


–Ashley Cisneros
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit www.ashleycisneros.com. You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.

About the Author:

Ashley Cisneros Mejia is a journalist, entrepreneur and marketer. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later as an editor at Florida Trend business magazine. Ashley has worked as a professional freelance writer since 2009, as a technical writer, marketing manager, and public relations practitioner. She also founded two digital marketing agencies in Orlando. Named one of Orlando’s 40 Under 40 and honored by the Women’s Executive Council of Orlando for achievements in media and communications, Ashley earned a B.S. in Journalism and an M.S. in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida.

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