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Undocumented Students in Higher Education


Every year, approximately 100,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States. Many of these students wish to pursue a higher education, but due to legal, financial, and social barriers, this process is complicated. Undocumented students may face more barriers compared to other students due to restrictive state and federal policies and a lack of support resources. According to the U.S. Department of Education “only 5 to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates continue their education and enroll in an institution of higher education, and far fewer successfully graduate with a degree.” This statistic shows that only a small number of undocumented students have access to postsecondary education opportunities, which can have a significant impact on their future prospects. Furthermore, the data presented suggests lower high school graduation rates, limited access to higher education, and lower graduation rates when compared to their peers born in the United States.


There has been a significant decrease in undocumented students pursuing and graduating from a higher institution. In fact, an analysis of the 2021 American Community Survey found that more than 408,000 undocumented students are enrolled in a U.S. college and university, comprising 1.9% of all college students in the country. This estimate represents a decrease of 4.2% from 2019. Undocumented students in the United States have the right to attend college and university, there are no national laws that prohibit undocumented students from applying to, attending, or graduating from American institutions. While there is no federal law prohibiting undocumented students from attending postsecondary institutions, some states may have legal barriers that prevent them from attending college. Laws evolve in response to political and cultural factors. Legal barriers are one of the most significant obstacles that undocumented students face. Many states have policies that prevent undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition or financial aid, making higher education financially not possible for them. Furthermore, federal policies may limit undocumented students' eligibility for certain scholarships, grants, and loans, reducing their ability to fund their education. For example, the Higher Ed Immigration Portal states that “24 states and D.C. provide in-state tuition to the states’ undocumented students. Of those states, 18 and D.C. provide access to state financial aid. Massachusetts, which just passed in-state tuition for undocumented students, brings the number of states with access to in-state tuition to 24. Four states provide undocumented students with access to in-state tuition in some but not all universities, 5 states provide access to in-state tuition only to DACA recipients, 8 states do not have known policies, and 9 states actively block access to in-state tuition for undocumented students, including 3 states which prevent undocumented students from enrolling in all or some public colleges.”


Despite facing significant challenges, undocumented students have achieved academic success, graduating from two- and four-year institutions and empowering others through mentorship and volunteering.  Their actions demonstrate their determination to defy the status quo, challenge unfair policies, and break negative generational cycles.

Nonetheless, I truly hope to see a change and increase in opportunities for undocumented students in order for them to further the education they truly deserve. I would love to end this if you or someone you may know who is Hispanic or even undocumented, I recently created an online project for Undocumented & Hispanics in high school who dream of pursuing a higher education. With this project, I plan to post weekly new information, statistics, news, scholarships, opportunities, websites, etc that will eventually and hopefully help them! The Instagram page is @ beyondbordersinitiative_

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