Kansas State University has built a “certain underground, word-of-mouth” system for aggressively recruiting illegal immigrant students, regardless of whether they qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

illegalimmigrantstudentsOver the last several years Kansas State recruiters have used privately raised cash to provide grants and scholarships to illegal immigrant students, and word is starting to spread. Students like Maria De La Torre – an illegal immigrant valedictorian of her high school class in Missouri, where non-citizens must pay out-of-state tuition – are getting sweetheart deals that cover virtually all of their education.

“What better story is out there than taking somebody who comes to America, regardless of how they get here, and wants to better themselves with a college education, contribute to the economy and be a great citizen,” Kansas State President Kirk Schultz told KCUR.

“I do know that not every legislative individual out there agrees with this particular stance. But we’re going to continue to be aggressive,” he said. “We want those student to feel comfortable at Kansas State, and I believe in 20 years somebody’s going to come back, they’re going to make a major gift to the institution and say, ‘Without Kansas State giving me my shot, I never would have been where I am today,’ and that’s the reason we’re doing it.”

Kansas State officials are unsure exactly how many illegal immigrant students are enrolled, but told KCUR the number of Hispanic students on campus has increased by about 500 over the last 5 years. Kansas is one of 16 states that offers in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

Kansas state Rep. Brett Hildabrand is one of the “legislative individuals” who thinks that giving special scholarships to illegal immigrants is a bad idea.

“I just see it as rewarding behavior we should not be encouraging,” said Hildabrand, a Kansas State alum. “That money could be going to immigrants who have gone through the legal process, those scholarships, or to Kansas student who have lived here their whole life.”

Hildabrand introduced legislation that would require state schools to charge out of state tuition to illegal immigrants but it hasn’t gained traction.

Schultz told KCUR the school has a Spanish website for potential students, but most make their way to the university through relationships the school’s built with Hispanic organizations like El Centro in Kansas City.

The group’s president, Irene Caudillo, applauded school officials as “courageous champions” for “setting that pathway for students who only know this as their country.”

Kansas State is certainly not the first university to court illegal immigrants, however.

The Associated Press earlier this month highlighted similar efforts by Western New Mexico University, as well as City University of New York, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School Of Medicine.

Officials at Western New Mexico University are targeting high performing illegal immigrant high schoolers “using a combination of social media and face-to-face recruiting.

“Through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the school works to convince students they’d find a hospitable environment for immigrants and possible financial aid at the 3,700-student university located in the mining town of Silver City,” according to the news service.