How one college is improving services to undocumented youth

Last month the U.S. Education Department released an updated resource guide on supporting undocumented youth. The guide, designed for educators and community organizations as well as youth and their families, includes an overview of the rights of undocumented students, tips for educators on how to support undocumented youth in high school and college, information on federal financial aid, a list of private scholarships and guidance for students applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) consideration or renewal. AACRAO members will be happy to hear the report also includes tips and example models for addressing the needs of undocumented students in higher education.

The primary tips for institutions, as identified by the U.S.D.O.E., are as follows:

  1. Create Open and Welcoming Environments
  2. Provide Services and Resources to Guide Undocumented Students
  3. Communicate and Demonstrate Support for DACA Youth
  4. Provide Peer-to-Peer Support and Relationship Building Opportunities
  5. Build Staff Capacity and Knowledge of Relevant Issues

In an effort to assist members in integrating their policies with federal recommendations, AACRAO will be conducting a 5 part series that breaks down the tips in a practical way and highlights the model programs from the report. This issue will focus on Tip 2: Provide Services and Resources. The model for this tip comes from Johnson County Community College, the institution of AACRAO President-Elect, Paul Kyle.

Tip 2: Provide Services and Resources

The federal guidance breaks down tip 2 with suggestions to:

  • Develop services and resources that specifically support undocumented students
  • Share information about DACA with students, families and the community at large
  • Be transparent by openly and proactively advertising the ways in which your institution supports undocumented students

Johnson County Community College (JCCC) achieves these goals through their office of International and Immigrant Student Services (IISS). The office was created because the administration identified a need for F1-international students and the rising immigrant demographics to have a point of contact for services. The IISS serves as a pivotal part of the Student Success and Engagement division, according to Chris Gray the Executive Director of Marketing Communications. IISS provides informative workshops, connections to organizations providing needed services. The office also hosts departmental meetings in order to keep faculty and staff up-to-date on undocumented student needs and available services. This ensures that no matter a student’s first point of contact, they will be directed to a person who is able to assist them fully.

Undocumented students have had legal access to public IHEs in Kansas, as well as the possibility of qualifying for in-state tuition, since 2004 when the legislature passed HB2145. This provides JCCC and other institutions clear guidance on accepting DACA students. What they have done with the IISS goes beyond that. The office “allows students to be better served by increasing collaboration between service providers” according to an official statement from Patricia Donaldson, the Coordinator of Immigrant Student Regulatory Advising and Support Services. It has also given the entire student body exposure to diverse cultural interactions, unique support services and dynamic opportunities while pursuing their academic goals.

According to Gray, JCCC has always strived to be a pioneer in serving the needs of their community. Using a one college – one community idea, the institution facilitates community-wide conversations focusing on finding solutions for integrating different student populations in the fabric of higher education in the region. Based on their experience, JCCC has some suggestions for other IHEs looking to improve their undocumented student services. These are:

  • Use recruitment presentations to talk openly about admissions for students of all status.
  • Create an office or point of contact for immigrant students
  •  Organize periodically presentations by Immigration Attorneys regarding current state of immigration law, terms and definitions.
  • Set up practical steps to integrate immigrant students in extracurricular activities such as clubs, organizations, volunteer opportunities on campus and with the community.
  • Create immigrant student scholarships
  • Offer specific workshop to students: Health insurance, scholarships, employment, tax assistance, seminars on advocacy groups supporting undocumented students

More information on how JCCC connects undocumented students to services can be found here [http://www.jccc.edu/admissions/international/index.html] and the full U.S.D.O.E. guide can be found here.