Less than 1% of Oklahoma collegians lack documents
Hispanic task force finishes work
[1]

BY JULIE BISBEE
Published: June 13, 2009

The number of students at Oklahoma’s higher education institutions in the country illegally make up less than 1 percent of the total number of students at the state’s colleges and universities.

A new report approved by the Advancement of Hispanic Students in Higher Education Task Force shows only 272 students enrolled in Oklahoma’s postsecondary education system are not legal residents. In all, Oklahoma [2] has 229,903 students enrolled in higher education. Undocumented students make up 0.11 percent of that number, according to the group’s report.

The task force, created by a House bill in 2004, held its final meeting Friday. Under legislation that created the 18-member task force, the group examined how state policies affected students who were not U.S. [3] citizens, including their use of financial aid and payment of tuition. The group’s report also tracks undocumented student enrollment.

"There is so much misinformation out there, that these students are taking resources away when that’s not the case,” said Isabel Chancellor [4], a member of the task force and president of IngenuitE, a business technology company that’s based in Oklahoma City [5]. "It’s good to have this all in black and white. By using this information, I hope it makes a difference.”

While Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the state’s population, the number of undocumented students enrolled in higher education is not growing at the same pace, the report shows. Over the past five years, the number of undocumented students in college has increased to 272 from 215. The report includes no recommendations on policy changes or how to improve education access for undocumented students.

Sen. Debbe Leftwich [6], a member of the task force, said there’s little point in recommending changes that might benefit students who are not citizens.

"Under the current administration, it seems discussion of those policy changes would just be stifled,” she said.

Republicans hold a majority in the House and Senate. Over the past few years, the Legislature has passed several anti-immigration bills, including House Bill 1804, which limited state education aid to students who were illegal immigrants.

Data collected over the past five years shows a sharp decline in the number of students receiving Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grants but an increase in students taking part in the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program. That number reflects an increase in the number of high school students who enrolled in the program.

At some point, however, undocumented students will have to seek private funding to pay for college. Students already enrolled in an education aid program when HB 1804 took effect were allowed to continue in their education, said Armando Pena [7], assistant vice chancellor for the State Regents for Higher Education.

"I think we’re going to see more students relying on private scholarships,” Pena said. "The challenge of how they are going to pay for college certainly increases.”

There is so much misinformation out there, that these students are taking resources away when that’s not the case. It’s good to have this all in black and white.”

Isabel Chancellor
Advancement of Hispanic Students in Higher Education Task Force member