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Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Immigrants - USA

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 11 years, 8 months ago

Scope of the Problem

  • Each year some 65,000 students graduate from high schools across the country without the opportunity to pursue higher education because they are undocumented.[1]
  • Currently, undocumented students who wish to pursue a college degree must pay out-of-state tuition even in the states where they reside, which can be several times that of in-state tuition in some institutions. For example, tuition and fees for the University of Colorado per semester for the year 2006-2007 is $5,643 for residents and $23,539 for non-residents.[2]
  • Furthermore, these students do not qualify financial aid. Thus, if an undocumented student wishes to go on to college, he/she must pay the out-of-state tuition rate out of his/her own pocket. Yet, the average income of these families is quite low, so it becomes nearly impossible to pursue a college degree and many of these students simply give up.
  • It is even more unfortunate that many of these students are almost identical to their legal classmates. These undocumented students are also athletes, valedictorians, club or class presidents, etc. They are involved in their schools and in their communities and have good academic standings. So much so that they often do get awarded scholarships for their accomplishments and are forced to turn them down because of their legal status.
  • All of this has a huge negative impact not only on the students themselves, but also on their families, communities, schools, and on society as a whole. This is the situation faced by many schools throught the nation where counselors see these students as "college material" but cannot find a way to help them. Families are crushed because they cannot afford the education their children want and deserved and in turn, these students are left feeling hopeless. 
  • Just over half (53.6 percent) of colleges knowingly admit undocumented immigrant students to degree or diploma programs under certain circumstances, while 46.4 percent do not.[3]
  • Public two-year colleges are the most likely to knowingly admit students residing in the United States illegally, with 69.9 percent indicating that they do so, whereas just 40.7 percent of private nonprofit colleges say the same.[4]


Past Policy



Current Policy

  • Since 2001, ten states have passed laws permitting eligible undocumented students who have completed their primary education and graduated from high shcool to pay the same tuition rates as their classmates at public colleges and universities. These states (Texas, California, Utah, Washington, New York, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, and Nebraska)have taken it upon themselves to alleviate this ignored issue by seeing not so much as an immigration issue as an education issue. Several other states are considering similar initiatives.
  • In many of these states support has been bipartisan and the vote has been overwhelmingly in favor of the bill's passage. In Illinois, for example, the vote in the House was 112 to 4 and 55 to 1 in the Senate.
  • Requirements of these bills in the ten states include the following: the individual must have
    • attended a school in the state for a certain amount of years;
    • graduated from high school in the state; and
    • signed an affidavit stating that they have either applied to legalize their status or intend to as soon as they are eligible.
  • These bills are intended to help children of immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents, who work hard in school, and who have goals of continuing their education, but who face the obstacles previously mentioned.
  • The states that have passed these bills suggest that they do not deprive the states of the revenue from these students who would otherwise pay out-of-state tuition since in reality few undocumented students are able to pay the out-of-state tuition rates and attend college. Instead, the states suggest that the percentage of high school graduates pursuing college degrees has increased. Experts in these states have indicated that the money paid by these students actually increases school revenues by representing income that would otherwise not exist.[5] 


Key Organizations/Individuals







  1. National Council of La Raza. DREAM Act Overview. http://www.nclr.org/content/policy/detail/1331/
  2. Griego, Tina. "DREAM Act would give children a chance." Rocky Mountain News. March 8, 2007. http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_5402310,00.html
  3. Findings of a new survey from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers: http://www.aacrao.org/pro_development/surveys/undocumented_results.pdf%20%3Chttp://www.aacrao.org/pro_development/surveys/undocumented_results.pdf%3E
  4. Findings of a new survey from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers: http://www.aacrao.org/pro_development/surveys/undocumented_results.pdf%20%3Chttp://www.aacrao.org/pro_development/surveys/undocumented_results.pdf%3E
  5. The National Immigration Law Center. All past policy information taken from "Basic Facts About In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students." http://www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/DREAM/in-state_tuition_basicfacts_041706.pdf

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