Undocumented Immigrants and College

Back in 2013 I wrote a piece about undocumented immigrants and various states’ plans to provide them with in-state tuition. The policies were pretty different by state, which made it difficult to figure out what was going on.

Now, for the first time, we have a comprehensive survey of undocumented students from across the nation. Conducted by the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at UCLA and the UndocuScholars Project, the report indicates that they’re mostly working class and have been in the U.S. for a long time:

On average, participants had resided 14.8 years in the U.S.; in most cases, the majority of their lives have been spent in the U.S.

Participants reported 33 different primary languages spoken at home • 61.3% had an annual household income below $30,000, 29.0% had an annual household income of $30,000 to $50,000, and 9.7% had an annual household income above $50,000

72.4% were working while attending college

This is standard. In these ways they resemble many students in community and small state colleges. But undocumented students are in one very serious way very, very different from other American college students.

Deportation is a constant concern. Over ¾ of participants reported worries about being detained or deported.

A vast majority (90.4%) said they would become citizens if they could

Another interesting component comes later on in the report. They’re virtually all attending public institutions: “48.2% attended four-year public colleges or universities, 42.4% reported attending two-year public colleges, and 9.4% attended private colleges.”

That’s why in-state tuition matters, that that’s why state policy that limits the ability of such students to attend public institutions at cheaper, in-state tuition rates is so important. That’s where almost all of them are going to attend school.

And the finances matter, a lot. Among those who reported that they had stopped attending college, it was not academic difficulties but that kept them out but, rather, the money: 74 percent said that they have left due to “financial difficulties.” College is just too expensive.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer