Education Trust is an organization that aims to address the racial and economic barriers in American education system. Photo credit: GettyImages.

Report shows how states restrict undocumented college students

There are currently over 427,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education institutions in the United States.


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An Education Trust report shared some key factors around undocumented students in the American higher education system. Researchers analyzed aspects in different states to see if state policies are helping or not undocumented students’ access and success in college.  

Despite the high number of undocumented students in the country, they still face many challenges to be able to get a degree. Some barriers have been lifted recently, easing their access to higher education, but most of them still face challenges when covering college costs.  

This population has limits on accessing in-state tuition and financial aid, food and housing assistance, and faces difficulties obtaining work authorization and employment. Among other limitations, they live under the constant fear of deportation for them and their families. 

According to the report, only 182,000 undocumented higher education students are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or are current program recipients. However, even DACA holders still face restrictions just like non-recipients.    

Among the 15 states included in the study, which have the largest number of undocumented college students, are New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts. Some of the main findings by Education Trust are: 

  • Most states allow all undocumented students — including DACA recipients — to enroll in two- and four-year state public higher education institutions; 
  • Five states restrict or prohibit undocumented students from receiving state financial aid, and two states make undocumented students pay out-of-state-resident tuition rates;
  • Five states allow all undocumented individuals to access a wide range of licenses.
  • Twelve states prohibit undocumented students from accessing their state’s Medicaid program; three provide state Medicaid access to students within a certain age range and with DACA status.
  • Seven states deny access to state-funded housing assistance for all undocumented students, and seven states provide access to all undocumented students in their state. One state provides limited state-funded housing assistance to undocumented individuals, depending on the circumstances and level of hardship they are experiencing.Due to federal funding restrictions and guidelines for state-funded food-assistance programs, undocumented students are not eligible for state-funded food-assistance benefits in any of the 15 states examined.
  • Nine states have at least one state policy that limits local cooperation with federal immigration authorities to identify, detain, or deport undocumented individuals.

Education Trust advocates that making college accessible and affordable also means understanding not only the specific challenges undocumented students face regarding their immigration status, but also celebrating their culturally diverse background. Offering the support needed is a way to promote social and economic mobility for these communities. 

You can learn more about the study and its findings here, as well as steps that policymakers should take to better serve undocumented college students.  


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