Supporting the success of undocumented students

Higher education professionals can do more to help undocumented students on college campuses, regardless of any law or policy changes implemented by the incoming presidential administration. And, more than ever, demographic shifts in our country are bringing issues facing these students to the front and center.


Helping undocumented students succeed requires the right combination of policies, programs and people -- and being sensitive to the very fluid situations these students face, said Miriam Feldblum, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Pomona College. Feldblum and Nicole Desjardins Gowdy, Director of Study Abroad, will lead a session at the AACRAO Annual Meeting to discuss how to support undocumented students’ success, including helping them take advantage of academic opportunities such as study abroad.

At the forefront

Pomona College in California has been very active in working to create different initiatives since 2008--four years before Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) existed.

“The political landscape is very dynamic right now, but we have gained a lot of experience supporting undocumented students even before DACA,” said Feldblum. Below are some of the initiatives Pomona has undertaken.

Policies. “In terms of policies, the first question is how to define undocumented students,” Feldblum said. “How you structure it makes a difference. For example, at Pomona, undocumented students are considered domestic students for admissions and financial aid purposes, which has important implications.”

People. Pomona has implemented peer mentor groups and designates faculty and campus partners who proactively reach out to undocumented students and let them know about available resources. Undocumented students will also see targeted messaging as soon as as they visit the admissions website.

“Since DACA was established, we have been able to provide study abroad opportunities to undocumented students with DACA,” Desjardins said. “We’ve collaborated with the Dean’s office to support students through the process and have been proud to see the number of students with DACA who study abroad steadily increasing.”

For example, the study abroad office collaborated with the Dean of Students to host an informational meeting for DACA students. The meeting included stories from undocumented students who had studied abroad, as well as an immigration attorney and college staff, so attendees could hear about the students’ varied experiences and ask questions about the legal aspect of study abroad in a safe place where they felt supported and knew their privacy would be maintained.

Programs. The college has also implemented programs to help students with concrete needs, such as funding for immigration and legal fees, as well as social and personal support, including mental health programs and career guidance.

“We spend a lot of time listening and learning from students,” Feldblum said. “We can’t assume we know what issues they’re are facing. We can’t expect the issues to be static: Right now the issues undocumented students are facing are different from even a year ago.”

Connect with colleagues

In their session, Desjardins and Feldblum will discuss how study abroad and other programs worked under the previous administration and what those opportunities may look like moving forward. For example, if DACA is dismantled and not replaced, what opportunities might be available for intercultural experiences that might meet the same goals as study abroad.


“The plan for the session will need to be flexible and dynamic--between now and April a lot can change,” Desjardins said. “We’ll discuss what we’ve learned from our past experiences and how we’re operating under any changes. We also hope to hear attendees’ creative ideas and promising practices from around the country.”

Other sessions at the AACRAO Annual Meeting--April 2-5, 2017, in Minneapolis--will address study abroad, as well as undocumented, international and refugee students. Review the conference program and register now for early bird rates.