María Molina and Vianey Valdez
Among the multiple groups of struggling students in America, the undocumented live in the shadows, awaiting recognition and assistance.
They are not easy to spot, and often face far more challenges than many other groups, left to navigate a difficult path to higher education without adequate assistance. Nationwide, just 2 percent of undocumented students are enrolled in postsecondary education.
When we were undergraduate students, we struggled with the immense difficulties of being undocumented. We owe many of our accomplishments to our colleges’ dream resource centers, places we heavily relied upon for academic, emotional and financial support. That’s why we are firm believers in the power of dream resource centers and believe that — with nearly half a million undocumented students in college — such centers should be on every campus.
In California, multiple universities and community colleges have dream resource centers to provide support to help undocumented students navigate and find financial aid, career advancement, legal and mental health services.
The centers help set students up for success by encouraging them to feel they are part of a school community and of society as a whole.
Students can meet with counselors and educational advisers via Zoom or in person by appointment or drop-in sessions. And dream centers partner with legal support teams that typically include a paralegal assistant and an accredited immigration attorney and offer free legal screenings and help with DACA applications and renewals, citizenship applications and family petitions.
This is essential aid for many undocumented students as they transition into higher education.
It was for us: We educated ourselves about laws, policies and support systems through the help of these centers.
Without these designated resource centers, information on policies that save undocumented students a lot of time, worry and money — such as the policy that allows students who attended a California high school for three years to have access to in-state tuition — would be largely unknown.
More than 427,000 undocumented students are enrolled in higher education, and more than 94,000 are enrolled in California’s colleges and universities. Nationally, of those enrolled, about 19 percent are in private colleges, such as the University of Southern California, and 90 percent are in undergraduate programs. Fewer undocumented students seek graduate degrees because there are less resources available to them.
Nearly 27,000 undocumented students in California graduate high school each year. They would likely feel more inclined to pursue higher education if they knew that every college had a community they could rely on for support.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in 2019 requiring all public colleges and universities to designate a dream resource liaison for each of their campuses; the bill also allows a California college campus to accept on behalf of the state any gift, bequest or donation that supports the development of a dream resource center.
Many Californian public colleges and universities now have on-campus dream resource centers, including UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. But some colleges are lucky to have a dream resource liaison, if that.
New York City has Immigrant Student Success centers or offices on many of its CUNY campuses. Providing these physical entities allows for the allocation of more resources and the accommodation of the needs of more undocumented students.
Unfortunately, too many colleges and universities have yet to create such support centers, even though many students are pushing for them. On our campus, the University of Southern California, undocumented students have repeatedly requested such a space, but have been unsuccessful so far.
In today’s political climate, undocumented students need that support more than ever. Undocumented students struggle every single day on college campuses nationwide.
Establishing resource centers for undocumented students at public and private universities and colleges nationwide would strongly encourage undocumented students to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees — especially if they feel supported along the way.
And having more dream centers would benefit the entire undocumented community. The support would improve and promote mental health; the physical spaces would serve as sanctuaries at a time of ever-changing immigration laws.
Undocumented students’ burdens would be lightened, and students would have more time and energy to devote to their studies.
Higher education institutions need to foster a welcoming and supportive environment that improves the university experience and creates opportunities later in life for all “Dreamers.”
María Fernanda Molina is a DACA recipient and a first-year master’s student at the USC Suzanne-Dworak Peck School of Social Work. Vianey Valdez is a first-generation DACA student pursuing her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Southern California. This story about dream resource centers was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.