For many undocumented high school students, college education has been a dream deferred, a promise broken by legal barriers that prevent them from accessing the personal, educational and professional benefits that college offers. President Richard Brodhead has stressed the importance of making Duke a place of “access, opportunity and mutual respect for all.” But Duke continues to treat undocumented applicants as international students, considering them on a “need-aware”—as opposed to “need-blind”—basis. Consequently, Duke’s admissions policies severely limit undocumented applicants’ chances of admission, since only about 3 percent of “international” applicants seeking financial aid are admitted each year.

AccessDuke, a group working to revise Duke’s admissions policies to provide more opportunities for undocumented students, is calling on the University to publicly support undocumented students and to treat undocumented applicants as domestic students. Given that undocumented students often lack the means to pay for a school like Duke and rarely have the ability to attend college in their country of origin, the current practice of considering undocumented students in the international applicant pool not only fails to account for these students’ unique situation, but also effectively denies them entry to Duke.

We endorse AccessDuke’s proposal and encourage University officials to consider undocumented applicants on a need-blind basis.

Evaluating undocumented applicants in the need-blind admissions pool would send a powerful message in support of undocumented students and offer students disadvantaged by national immigration policy a chance to attend college. It would bring Duke’s admissions practices in line with its stated commitment to equity and access, would be lawful under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and, given the low volume of undocumented applicants, would cost the University virtually nothing.

Concerned about its image, however, Duke may not want to dive into deeply contested political debates over immigration or expand the domestic applicant pool for fear of inviting other, non-citizen applicants to protest the need-aware admissions policy.

We support AccessDuke’s proposal, but recognize that determining the feasibility of the proposed changes requires understanding Duke's reasoning for its current financial aid policy and stance on AccessDuke's proposal. AccessDuke might benefit from working directly with Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag or Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of financial aid, to assess the plausibility of their proposal. We encourage Guttentag and Rabil to be proactive in working with AccessDuke to develop an admissions policy that treats undocumented applicants with fairness and respect.

Not only do undocumented students deserve a chance to attend college, but institutions like Duke have a responsibility to do what they can to compensate for federal and state policies that deny undocumented students opportunities to improve their lot. Some private universities, like the University of Chicago, have already admissions policies that remove barriers for undocumented applicants. Duke should follow their lead.

We should stop paying lip service to equity, fairness and access, and, instead, adopt policies that ensure it.