09/05/2012 12:59 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Access to Higher Education as a Deep Principle

This is the time of a beautiful and encouraging autumnal ritual. Students arrive on campus for the opening of a new academic year, filled with promise and expectations. As many as 21 million will attend state, community, and private colleges in the United States this fall, all part of a higher education system that remains the envy of the world.

More than two million high school graduates will apply to college during the year, seeking knowledge, growth, and discovery as well as taking a key step toward a productive career. It is projected that by 2018 a postsecondary education will be required for nearly two-thirds of all U.S. jobs.

One obstacle for many of these students is the rising cost, particularly as the recession has driven states to reduce support for public institutions. While private colleges require higher tuition and fees, they also remain strongly committed to access and award substantial financial assistance to students from low-income families. (Hampshire's annual financial aid budget is $30 million.) Qualified students with substantial need receive financial aid both from the college and from important federal programs. This assistance can cover most costs and is the only thing that makes it possible for them to attend college.

One group of qualified students, however, is excluded: the children of undocumented immigrants, born elsewhere but raised in the United States. Many were brought into this country as babies or young children. They have attended U.S. schools and worked hard enough to gain entrance to elite colleges, yet are prohibited from receiving federal financial assistance of any kind, including work-study funds. As a result, they lose the chance for a college education.

This is neither fair nor wise. Educating these able young people will benefit them, their communities, and this country.

We believe the availability of education to those who work hard to earn it is a fundamental right, and with the help of supportive alumni and parent donors, Hampshire College has set up a scholarship fund for these students. This scholarship fund relies entirely on private money and does not draw away from financial assistance to other students. No law bars these young people from attending college, and they should not be barred from receiving the help they deserve from generous, willing donors.