OKLAHOMA got it right so many years ago when lawmakers embraced the idea that young people whose parents brought them into the United States illegally shouldn't bear the legal or financial burden of that decision. Unfortunately, such vision and open-mindedness has dwindled over the years.
The law that allowed such students to attend college at in-state tuition rates and get state-funded scholarships has been scaled back and is far less friendly to undocumented students pursuing higher education. We remain hopeful the tide will someday shift again in favor of opportunity.
Fewer than 500 undocumented students attend Oklahoma's public colleges and universities. Not surprisingly, the school with the highest number of these students is Oklahoma City Community College, with 163. OCCC is in southwest Oklahoma City where many Hispanic families have settled in recent years. Tuition is low at OCCC and other two-year schools compared with four-year schools. Tulsa Community College, also a two-year school, reported the second-highest number of undocumented students, with 94.
For these students, a college education represents the best hope for meaningful career opportunities and financial stability. They want the American dream. Without a permanent decision on federal immigration policy — Congress is working presently, and slowly, to crack that nut — the futures for undocumented students are still very much in flux. A deferred action program is allowing some to obtain driver's licenses and pursue other previously limited privileges. But when it comes to higher education, Oklahoma needn't continue to wait on the federal government to do the right thing by students who have done no wrong.
Clearly, undocumented students aren't overrunning the state's colleges and universities. No matter their determination, the students and their families face significant barriers in the pursuit and financing of higher education. Without legal residence, low wages rule the day. Many young people must work to help support their families, which gets in the way of many Hispanic students even finishing high school.