When school rolls around this fall, it won’t be without a significant change to one of the University of Wisconsin’s most valuable programs: the PEOPLE program.
Starting this fall, the PEOPLE program will accept undocumented students.
The PEOPLE program — a college prep scholarship for students of color and low-income students — prepares these students to apply, be admitted and thrive at UW. In addition to offering academic tutoring and summer programming opportunities, the program facilitates the development of social and self-management skills vital to college success. If students finish the pre-college program and enroll at UW, they may even be able to obtain four-year, full-tuition scholarships.
Despite the program’s existence for nearly 20 years, it has always had a citizenship eligibility requirement. Until now.
While the university will not be able to provide public funds towards scholarships for undocumented students, qualified students will be able to receive funds acquired by UW through private donations.
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Considering that undocumented students are often lower-income students, this is a valuable change that demonstrates a profound leap forward in increasing educational access and helps ensure that any student with the capability and desire to receive a college education is able to do so.
First, expanding educational opportunities to undocumented students is the morally correct decision to make. Most undocumented students arrived in the U.S. as children, some even as babies. Is it ethically acceptable to deny someone who has built a life in America (often the only country they’ve ever truly considered their home) and worked hard in school access to an affordable education? And given that undocumented students often come from low-income families but are frequently ineligible for aid due to their undocumented status, scholarship programs such as the one now offered by PEOPLE play a vital role in providing undocumented students the financial resources necessary to attend college.
Furthermore, the justification for educational scholarships for undocumented students goes far beyond just the moral realm. Undocumented immigrants contribute enormously to America’s economy. Economists have projected that the discontinuation of DACA, for example, would yield disastrous impacts on U.S. financial life — costing the U.S. economy more than $400 billion over the next decade.
Why? Since people such as undocumented students will obtain jobs that contribute to our economic growth, the money earned goes right back into the economy. By allowing undocumented students access to an education, they will be able to obtain high-skilled jobs that will keep America’s economic engine in motion. These undocumented students (and their ideas, skills, and work), after all, are part of our country’s future and economic success.
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Additionally, when undocumented immigrants are given the chance to contribute, they do. For instance, nearly eight percent of Dreamers have started a business, compared to only three percent of the U.S. population as a whole. Undocumented immigrants pay billions in tax dollars and have helped elevate our economy to record levels with purchases of cars and homes. By ensuring greater access to education for undocumented students, they will likely be able to make significant purchases such as these in the future, to benefit America’s economy as a whole. Contrary to the belief of some, Dreamers have had no effect on the wages of U.S. born workers. To compete in today’s global market, America should attract and train the globe’s most talented members. America’s economy is stronger today with and because of the presence of undocumented immigrants. So when undocumented students are given the chance to succeed, everyone wins.
Additionally, offering educational and scholarship programs for undocumented students not only benefits this group by providing previously unavailable opportunities but also strengthens campus at large. Undocumented students could likely channel their unique experiences to offer new and valuable contributions to campus dialogue around national issues of race, class and immigration. We all do better when a diverse array of people are brought together. Besides, in today’s globalized world, it’s essential to be able to collaborate with and understand the perspectives of those with differing backgrounds.
UW’s recent announcement that the PEOPLE program will begin accepting undocumented students is not only the right thing to do — it’s also the smart thing to do. Students who demonstrate the desire and qualifications to attend college should be able to afford to do so in the U.S., plain and simple. In doing so, every individual will have a chance to fulfill the promise of the “American Dream.” Undocumented students, many of whom were brought to the United States as infants or children, deserve that same opportunity. After all, nearly all of us are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who came to America seeking a better life — some of us merely arrived sooner or from farther places than others.
David Weinberg ([email protected]) is a junior double-majoring in Journalism and Political Science.