Undocumented Students Work Toward College Degrees

Tim Goral's picture

Johanna takes visual and performing arts classes at Johnson C. Smith University and aspires to own her own small business – like her father and brother.

An undocumented Charlotte resident from Argentina, Johanna is working toward a degree in graphic design. While college is expensive for most students, it is particularly challenging for her and other undocumented students.

Under federal law, students do not have to prove citizenship to enter colleges and universities.

But in states like North Carolina, they cannot pay in-state tuition. Students who are not here legally cannot apply to receive federal student funding – money that includes grants, loans and scholarships.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, according to a study by the College Board. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of them go on to college, the American Association of State Colleges estimates.

Johanna, a 22-year-old freshman, said she took 16 credits while maintaining a 4.0 GPA this past semester. She also works in Charlotte with her father a few days a week at a garage to help pay for her classes: $1,184 out-of-pocket per semester. Johanna said she receives a $15,000-a-year scholarship from the university.

Because she and her family are living in the country illegally, she did not want her last name used. The family overstayed their three-month visa 11 years ago when they came from Buenos Aires.

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