Dozens of higher education groups, including associations representing the nation’s colleges and universities, urged the Education Department on Thursday to clarify that undocumented and international students are eligible for emergency student grants created in the COVID relief package Congress approved in December.
The Education Department came under fire last year when it denied the two groups of students access to emergency student grants in the CARES Act, saying they were ineligible for the help because they cannot get federal student aid under the Higher Education Act. The department under the Trump administration also denied aid to students brought illegally as children to the U.S. because of a provision in the Clinton administration’s 1996 welfare reform bill that excludes non-U.S. citizens from receiving federal benefits.
Before leaving office, Trump’s Education Department clarified two weeks ago that it is allowing those ineligible for student aid for reasons like having poor grades or having defaulted on loans to receive the emergency grants.
However, as Inside Higher Ed reported, Diane Auer Jones, the principal deputy under secretary at the Education Department, told education leaders on a conference call the department is continuing to deny aid to noncitizens. She said on a recording of the call, which Inside Higher Ed listened to, that excluded from help were those not meeting “the citizenship requirements for any individual who receives federal benefits.”
The Education Department under the Biden administration has not responded to repeated requests for comment about its position on letting the students get help.
“To clear up that uncertainty, we respectfully request that the Department issue additional guidance as soon as possible specifying that all students at eligible institutions, including undocumented and international students, are eligible for those grants,” Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, wrote acting education secretary Phil Rosenfelt on behalf of the groups.