Kyle’s Reflections on NASPA 2015: Institutionalizing Undocumented Student Support

Kyle-SouthernLast week, I had the opportunity to present alongside valued colleagues from the University of California Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) during the annual conference of NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education. Our presentation, “Institutionalizing Support for Undocumented Student Success” provided national context for the educational imperative colleges and universities face to support all of their students, regardless of citizenship or residency status, with holistic support to achieve their full potential.

We presented three points to bear in mind as institutions work to meet their undocumented students’ needs:

  • Undocumented student access and support is a national issue addressed in local and individual ways

  • Student activism can spark campus movements, but student affairs professionals and faculty play critical roles institutionalizing commitment to student services

  • Tuition equity and financial aid eligibility are important first steps, but ongoing support empowers students to navigate the college experience

NEIU, a 100% commuter student campus on the Northwest side of Chicago, serves more than 10,000 students. More than half of NEIU’s students attend part-time, and the average student is 28 years old. The Undocumented Students Project has convened faculty and staff to oversee program activities and assess policies and processes affecting undocumented students. The Project has also developed a comprehensive Undocumented Student Resource Guide, Ally program, and website. To meet the needs of Chicagoland undocumented students, NEIU leverages both on-campus leadership and community-based partnerships.

UC Berkeley ranks among the most prestigious research institutions in the country. Although Berkeley is renowned for its history of on-campus student activism, the needs of undocumented students have gained the institution’s attention primarily in recent years. The Undocumented Student Program there, however, has quickly established itself as a model for holistic student services. The Program seeks to meet both the academic and overall well-being needs of students. To meet those needs, the Program engages faculty and staff campus-wide, along with partners beyond the campus. This engagement enables Berkeley to provide an experience that is more inclusive and supportive in order to empower students.

NEIU and UC Berkeley are institutions with different missions, meeting those missions in different ways. What unites them in this case is a common commitment to identifying and bringing to bear a comprehensive set of on- and off-campus resources to support students who are undocumented in a comprehensive manner that recognizes the right of everyone to learn and achieve. I hope presentation attendees came away with tangible steps they can take to deepen their own institutions’ commitments to their enrolled undocumented students. Doing so affirms the mission of higher education to empower students and graduates and the shared value in the field of meeting the particular needs of all students to fulfill their empowered potential.