University Works to Help undocumented Students

While undocumented residents hoping to attend Northern Kentucky University face additional financial hurdles, a university official said the school looks to help them with the barriers they face in attending the university.

“What I think you see going across the states, the biggest issue is tuition and obviously these students don’t qualify for federal aid programs,” said Paul Orscheln, NKU’s associate vice president of enrollment management.

Since 2003, undocumented students at the University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, NKU, technical schools and community colleges have been eligible for instate tuition, according to, a website to assist undocumented students.

Once a student is identified as an undocumented student, paperwork requirements for students decrease and tuition payments must be paid up front. They are not required to complete federal student aid paperwork, since they are not eligible for the program.

Students are still offered deferred tuition payment plans, requiring half of tuition paid immediately and the rest paid in the first few months of the semester. NKU’s undocumented students are also eligible for merit-based scholarships.

The university recognizes the cost of college is always a factor for prospective students, said Gail Wells, NKU’s provost.

“We do know with many students, the cost is prohibitive, particularly for students who would ordinarily qualify for Pell Grants, but cannot receive them, because they cannot be approved at the federal level,” she said. “NKU, the institution, doesn’t play any role in that.”

Orscheln came from Northern Arizona University, where there were more undocumented students but fewer opportunities. Arizona is one of four states with laws forbidding undocumented students from receiving instate tuition rates.

“Especially in those states that do not offer them instate tuition, often times you will lose a quality student who did very well in high school, because they don’t have the means to pay,” Orscheln said.
He said that while working at Northern Arizona, he came across undocumented students who had been in the United States as long as they could remember. For those students, the application process to the university was often the first time these students realized they were not legalized citizens.

Orscheln said there is often an incorrect perception that undocumented students are not welcome in a university system. He said universities want the best students regardless of background.
“If you qualify for admission, we admit you, whether you are an international student, a resident student or an undocumented student,” he said. “Being competitive on the front-end to attract quality students, we must make sure we are on the cutting edge of how to do that.”

Undocumented students are viewed no differently than the rest of the population, Wells said.
“These students are just like any other students at NKU,” she said.