Wesleyan Expands Access To Financial Aid For Undocumented Students

May 16, 2016

Credit Wesleyan University

Wesleyan University has changed its financial aid policy to treat undocumented students (and those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA) as U.S. residents. The school had been admitting undocumented students since 2000, but treated them as international students, who have a smaller financial aid budget.  

The decision, which was made official early in May, was “mostly because we think it’s the right thing to do,” says Dean of Admissions Nancy Meislahn. 

She says Wesleyan has received “between 120 and 150” applications from students who were undocumented or protected under DACA in the last couple of years. “And in many ways they are just as interesting, compelling and would thrive at Wesleyan in the same way as, quite frankly, students sitting next to them in the classroom who by accident of birth happen to have the papers they need.”

About two or three undocumented students are accepted into the school annually. That means undocumented Americans applying to Wesleyan had about a five percent acceptance rate at Wesleyan; across the board, the school’s average acceptance rate is much higher, hovering at around 20 percent.

Wesleyan says all students it admits are funded according to their financial need, including Wesleyan scholarships, but also work-study programs, outside grants, federal loans and any help from family. But the school’s budget for funding international students -- and therefore, the number of international students it can accept to fill that promise -- is much smaller than its budget for U.S. residents seeking admission to the school. Only nine percent of students at Wesleyan are international students, according to the Princeton Review, and Meislahn says competition to become one of those students is fierce. “All the students from all around the world compete for a very small number of need-based full scholarships.”

A Wesleyan spokesperson says the change will allow the university “the flexibility” to admit more undocumented students than it admits currently, and that the school hopes the change will encourage more students to apply to the school.

Students, alumni, and education activists have applauded the decision.

Speaking to the Hartford Courant, Katherine Gin, co-founder of the California-based accessible education group called Educators For Fair Consideration, said it came at a crucial moment in the American zeitgeist. "It's good for students and undocumented immigrants generally for people to speak out, stand up, be upfront with their support," she said, "especially when there's so much anti-immigrant rhetoric spewing forth around the country."