Undocumented students with DACA status to be eligible for more financial aid

Starting in fall 2016, undocumented undergraduate students who hold Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status granted by the federal government will be considered by Cornell as domestic students for admissions and financial aid. Like any other U.S. citizen or permanent resident, they will be eligible for need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid. Cornell had previously considered undocumented students as international students and, therefore, competing with international students for the limited amount of financial aid available.

Cornell is among the first universities in the country to extend full financial aid eligibility to undocumented undergraduate students with DACA status.

While federal and state financial aid is not available to DACA students, Cornell will provide institutional financial aid in place of federal and state grants and loans.

“This is the right thing to do; it is a part of our core value epitomized by Cornell’s founding philosophy of ‘any person,’” said Provost Michael Kotlikoff, who announced the change Feb. 11 at a presentation to the Student Assembly. “The new policy reflects Cornell’s commitment to access by not penalizing students who lack, through no fault of their own, legal immigration documentation yet have spent substantial parts of their lives living in the United States. In some cases, the one thing that was holding them back from applying to Cornell was the fact that we had no way of recognizing them.”

DACA is a federal immigration policy that allows youths who were born in another country and brought to the United States as children to request that they not be deported. Students with DACA status can live and go to school in the United States and are eligible to work. DACA grants non-immigrant legal status but does not provide a path to citizenship. The Obama administration started the policy in 2012.

The new financial aid policy is likely to affect a small percentage of Cornell students but represents a substantial benefit for those who have DACA status, said Barbara A. Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.

National estimates suggest that 80,000 undocumented youths turn 18 and about 65,000 graduate from high school in the United States each year. Just 54 percent of undocumented youths have at least a high school diploma, compared with 82 percent of their U.S.-born peers. Further, only 5 to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates continue their education and enroll in a college or university, and far fewer successfully graduate with a degree.

Undergraduate applicants who are undocumented and without DACA status will be evaluated for admission with consideration of the ability of students or parents to pay educational costs.

Kotlikoff also announced a change in financial aid policy for international undergraduates. Starting in fall 2017, international students and undocumented students without DACA status will be admitted on a “need-aware” basis – that is, their or their parents’ ability to pay for school and their financial need will be one of the factors Cornell will take into consideration when deciding to admit them.

However, all admitted students with demonstrated financial need will receive aid that meets 100 percent of their family’s demonstrated need. Cornell provides more than $11.5 million in financial assistance to international students each year, Kotlikoff said. “This new policy will ensure that every international student who is admitted and who has financial need will have the means to attend Cornell,” he said.

The policy will also provide the university with greater ability to actively manage enrollment and avoid difficult situations in which international students admitted with demonstrated financial need but offered no financial aid may be challenged to meet their educational expenses, he added.

About 10 percent of Cornell’s undergraduate population is international. In fall 2015, there were 1,376 international undergraduates at Cornell; 250 received financial aid.

Both new financial aid policies were approved by the Cornell University Board of Trustees during its January meetings.

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