Quick Facts on Children of Immigrants in Georgia’s Public Schools

  • Did you know that students who are here in the U.S. legally under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) cannot enroll at Georgia’s major public colleges and universities after high school?
  • Did you know that students who are here in the U.S. legally under DACA cannot receive federal student loans nor can they pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges in Georgia? (Some states, like California, allow this – see below.)
  • Did you know that students who are here in the U.S. under DACA can attend public school in Georgia for free until they graduate high school?
  • Did you know that a student who has a baby while still attending high school can qualify for government assistance for childcare (CAPS) based on low income? Students who qualify for legal residency under DACA cannot qualify for this government assistance for childcare.

Why Should We Care?
Over the last five years in my classroom, I have heard it all. But some of the saddest things I hear are statements like, “I’m just going to drop out. I can’t go to college anyway” or “School doesn’t matter – I can’t afford college anyway.” I struggle to come up with an answer that will convince my students that their worries are in vain, that they’re just making excuses. But for students without the necessary papers, these aren’t just excuses. It’s reality.

In 2012-2013, Hispanic students graduated at a rate about 9 percent less than Georgian students overall (“Report Card,” Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 2012-2013).

The overall graduation rate in Georgia is the sixth worst in the U.S., and the graduation rate amongst Hispanics in Georgia is the third worst in the nation according to this recent AJC article.

In this article, I want to propose actions we as a state could take in order to address these troubling statistics and issues. By combining my own personal insights from teaching in schools with high numbers of undocumented students and by analyzing the data, I want to explain how we could improve our graduation rates and overall success of our DACA students.

Graduation Rates Among Hispanics and ELLs are Too Low

If you look at the two charts below, you will notice that Hispanic students graduate at a lower rate (64%) than all other races/ethnicities. You will also notice in the second chart that students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) graduate lower (43.9%) than all other subgroups except for students with disabilities (36.5%).

graduation rates 2013-2014 GAenrollment numbers GA 2013-2014

This seems to indicate that students who enter our state as older children, with limited English, graduate at lower rates than Hispanic students who have been in the U.S. for longer periods of time or Hispanic students who came to the U.S. with advanced knowledge of English. Unless we holistically improve our education system, schools like Cross Keys HS or Meadowcreek HS (Gwinnett) will continue to struggle with low graduation numbers as they educate students from these subgroups.

Hispanics are Underrepresented in Our Universities and Technical Colleges

Currently, Hispanic students comprise 10% of our high school graduates, yet, according to the Migration Policy Institute (where much of this information is from), only 4% of students enrolled in technical colleges were Hispanic, and only 5% of students enrolled in the University System of Georgia were Hispanic.

Composition of Students in GA Schools

Let DACA Students Pay In-State Tuition and Qualify for HOPE

Students who qualify for free K-12 public education under DACA cannot qualify for in-state tuition or the HOPE scholarship at schools like Valdosta State, SCAD, or other universities and colleges in the state of Georgia. This, I believe, is one of the factors that contributes to the gap between Hispanic/Latino high school graduates and the Hispanic/Latino college enrollment numbers.

Since the HOPE scholarship is funded through the Georgia lottery, this does not require taxpayers to use their tax money to fund scholarships. (And if we want to get into a debate about taxes funding education of DACA students, then the debate should extend to K-12 education as well, since taxes fund our public education system.) To read a more comprehensive overview of the laws behind undocumented students and tuition, click here.

In any case, f we allow DACA students to qualify for HOPE, I am sure that we would see an increase in our college enrollment numbers for Hispanics.

Let DACA Students Apply to ALL Our Universities and Colleges

Georgia is the only state that bars DACA students from attending its most academically selective universities (like UGA, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State).

If we want to improve our university system and make it more competitive and more selective, we should at least allow DACA students to apply and potentially enroll in our top universities and colleges. Let’s hold the same high standards for all students, and if DACA students meet the entrance requirements and are selected to enter schools like Georgia Tech and UGA, then it only helps our state become more competitive economically and academically.

If the Board of Regents doesn’t change the policy on this, our state is going to continue to lose top academic achievers (as I have witnessed) to prestigious out-of-state universities that offer generous financial scholarships to first-generation college students.

Let DACA Students Use CAPS

Students who have babies in high school and who are U.S. citizens have government financed options for childcare, should they choose to finish high school, college, or pick a career. Students without a social security number, however, do not. If a DACA student drops out to take care of his or her child, this information isn’t included in the drop-out statistics – which I think masks one of the issues. Let’s fix this so that yet another barrier to graduating isn’t placed in front of these students.

One of the students I’ve mentored  for about a year at Cross Keys High School (I’ll call her Maria to protect her privacy) has a beautiful baby boy. Every morning Maria — who is here legally through DACA — carries him to a different neighbor or gets her mom to take time off of work or asks her sister to watch her young son so that she can finish high school. Her son’s father (who has since dropped out of high school to work) is unable to stay home with their child and he doesn’t make enough to pay rent, buy food, and pay for childcare.

When it rains, Maria walks through the rain to carry her baby to a neighbor’s home, then she catches the bus to school. Sometimes she misses the bus. Sometimes she can’t find someone to take care of her son, so she stays home with him, missing valuable class time.

I suggested that she try to send her son to the daycare I send my daughter. I know for a fact that the daycare accepts CAPS, the government program that pays for childcare if someone is working or is in school. But Maria can’t get this financial assistance because she doesn’t have a social security number. Even though her son is a U.S. citizen because he was born here in the U.S., she cannot receive CAPS because she is not a citizen.

I strongly advocate that we change this.

What Do Other States Do for DACA Students?

The following states offer in-state tuition to students who qualify under DACA (Deferred Action for Children…): California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Five states—California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas and Washington—offer state financial assistance to unauthorized students.

Six states bar unauthorized immigrant students from in-state tuition benefits: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and South Carolina.


US DACA Rules by StateWith the Latino/Hispanic population of Georgia continuing to grow, it is important for us to consider the ramifications of our state’s policies on university attendance and tuition. For many students who drop out of high school, it doesn’t seem that illogical to choose working for a small business over finishing high school. We need to help our Latino/Hispanic students see the logic and reasoning behind staying in school until they receive their high school diploma.

We also need to understand that until we make some changes to our educational policies — and until we reform immigration laws in our state and in our country — we are going to continue to struggle through the issue of low graduation rates in our Hispanic/Latino communities. While this is by no means the only hindrance, I believe it plays a significant role in the high school dropout and graduation rates for the state of Georgia and my Buford Highway community.

Let’s give our students hope by allowing them to attend and receive in-state tuition in our universities and colleges in the University System of Georgia and to get access to CAPS while attending public school.

To read AJC coverage of this issue, check out this very informative article: http://m.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/emory-to-help-immigrant-students/nkqt9/