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Here's how undocumented students in Kansas and Missouri can still get college financial aid

University of Missouri students hang out on MU's Francis Quadrangle in front of the columns Sept. 18, 2020, in Columbia, Missouri.
Jacob Moscovitch
Kansas City Beacon
University of Missouri students hang out on MU's Francis Quadrangle in front of the columns Sept. 18, 2020, in Columbia, Missouri.

Federal and state aid aren’t options for undocumented students in Missouri and Kansas, but they can still find scholarships to pay for college.

It’s college application season and admissions and financial aid deadlines are quickly approaching. The Beacon has been compiling resources and advice for students in Missouri and Kansas.

See the Beacon's past coverage to learn more aboutfree community college in Kansas,financial aid tips,Missouri scholarship opportunities andKansas scholarship opportunities.

For undocumented students, some of the conventional paths to finding college financial aiddon’t apply.

They are excluded from many forms of state and federal aid, and even some private scholarships.

But opportunities do exist, and there are resources to help you find them.

“When (undocumented students) feel defeated, it’s like, OK, well, let’s talk about what we do have access to,” said Alejandra Pérez, director of the scholarship program at the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund. “And just don’t give up.”

Here are some tips to help you navigate the process, particularly in Missouri and Kansas.

Can I file the FAFSA if I’m undocumented?

Usually the answer is no. You need a Social Security number to fill out the FAFSA, meaning many undocumented immigrants don’t qualify.

However, some undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — often known as Dreamers or DACA recipients — can apply for a Social Security number.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be awarded federal or state aid you couldn’t normally receive. But if a scholarship uses the FAFSA to calculate your financial need and doesn’t care about your immigration status, it could be helpful to have on file.

Answer questions about your citizenship status honestly, and count the state where you live as your “state of legal residence.”

See this Q&A from Federal Student Aid for more information.

Can I file the FAFSA if my parents are undocumented?

Yes. If you’re able to fill out the FAFSA based on your own status, your parents’ or guardians’ immigration status shouldn’t affect your application.

The FAFSA will ask for their Social Security numbers when you report their income, but you can leave those blank by filling in all zeros. The FAFSA will also ask for their state of residence but not their immigration status.

Undocumented parents or guardians cannot create an FSA ID — a username and password that can be used to electronically sign the FAFSA. Instead, they can print, sign and mail the form.

Am I eligible for any federal aid programs?

No. Undocumented students can’t receive federal student aid such as the Pell Grant, work study or federal loans.

Am I eligible for any state aid programs?

Not if you live in Missouri or Kansas. Both states exclude undocumented students, including DACA recipients, from their statewide aid programs.

Can I receive in-state tuition?

It depends on where you live.

Missouri law requires public colleges and universities to charge undocumented immigrants the same tuition they charge international students, which is often the same as the out-of-state rate or higher.

Kansas undocumented students who meet certain requirements pay in-state tuition at public universities in Kansas.

Most private colleges and universities don’t offer in-state tuition.

How do I qualify for in-state tuition in Kansas?

You’re eligible to receive in-state tuition if you attended an accredited Kansas high school for at least three years and either graduated from high school or got your GED in Kansas.

If you’re undocumented, you also have to sign an affidavit saying you or your parents have either applied to legalize your immigration status or will do so as soon as you’re eligible.

If your legal immigration status is temporary, you can file an affidavit saying you have applied to become a citizen or will do so when you are eligible.

You do not qualify if you have a current student visa or are eligible to receive resident tuition in a different state.

Can I receive scholarships from my college or university?

Once again, it depends.

Jessica Piedra, an immigration attorney based in Kansas City, has advocated for improved access to higher education and financial aid for immigrant students. She said Missouri law has sometimes been interpreted to exclude some undocumented students from enrolling in public colleges and universities regardless of their ability to pay.

Students in programs such as DACA can enroll, she said, but those students still have a hard time accessing institutional financial aid.

Missouri law doesn’t allow public institutions to provide monetary benefits to undocumented students, said Doug Swink, assistant vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “We can’t provide any kind of scholarships or waivers that are tied to institutional dollars.”

Pérez, with the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund, said public colleges and universities in Missouri are sometimes able to find scholarship funds for undocumented students, especially if her organization, which also runs a Family College Prep Program, steps in to advocate.

“That requires us knowing the system, knowing our partners, where the students don’t know how to advocate for themselves,” she said. “If we don’t hear about some of these issues, it’s hard for us to help them.”

Sometimes, it can be easier for Missouri undocumented students to afford private schools or even go out of state, Pérez and Piedra said.

In Kansas, multiple state universities — including the University of Kansas, Kansas State, Emporia State and Fort Hays State — say on their websites that undocumented students can receive institutional aid.

Private universities can also offer support to undocumented students.

Donnelly College, a private Catholic college in Kansas City, Kansas, is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution. It emphasizes support for students who can’t file the FAFSA.

“We have many scholarships that do not require you to be eligible for the FAFSA,” the college’s website says near the top of its main scholarship page.

“If a student is uneligible to receive funds from the federal government, we automatically give them a 50% off of their tuition,” said Nick Sutton, director of financial aid at Donnelly.

Pérez named Donnelly College, as well as Avila Universityand Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, and the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, as private colleges that have been especially supportive of undocumented students.

What private scholarships can I receive?

Sutton recommends undocumented students look at specialized scholarship lists, particularly the ones from My Undocumented Life and the Kansas Missouri Dream Alliance.

Other resources include:

There are also local opportunities, including those offered by Pérez’s organization.

The Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund, which in the past two years has awarded more than 15% of its scholarships to students who indicated they had DACA status or were otherwise undocumented, partners with local colleges and universities to match some of its awards, Pérez said. A list of partner colleges is near the bottom of the organization’s scholarship page.

Meanwhile, the KC Scholars program is not open to all undocumented students but does allow Dreamers/DACA recipients to apply.

What if I need more help?

Piedra recommended Latinos of Tomorrow as a college access program that is sensitive to the needs of undocumented students.

The Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund also offers its Family College Prep Program to all students at Bishop Ward High School, East High School, Guadalupe Centers High School, Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, Olathe North High School and Wyandotte High School.

The program leads financial aid workshops for students who can’t file a FAFSA.

If you’re unsure whether you’re eligible for a specific scholarship or what your options are, you can always reach out to the financial aid offices of the college(s) you’re considering. High school counselors may also be able to offer guidance on how to find opportunities or meet eligibility requirements.

For Pérez, it’s about getting students to college, even if the future is uncertain: “I tell them what my mom told me: that nobody can take your education away from you,” she said.

“If you can still be in school and make some progress towards that, like, you don’t know how your life is going to change once you have that degree.”

This story was originally published by the Kansas City Beacon.

Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.
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