Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Are Your State’s Policies Towards Immigrant Access to Higher Education?

It’s October and many high school seniors across the country are busy preparing to apply for college, which means that teachers, guidance counselors, parents and others are also busy — helping students fill out FAFSAs, select schools, revise essays, and write recommendation letters among other tasks.  Each year, an estimated 65,000 of these soon-to-be graduated youth are unauthorized immigrant students who were brought to the U.S. as children, and who face distinct challenges from their peers when accessing college. 

While guaranteed a right to public K-12 education under the 1982 Supreme Court ruling in Plyer v. Doe, there is no corresponding federal edict for how unauthorized youth are to be treated in a post secondary setting. As a result, many states have responded in diverse ways with some states allowing for tuition equity and financial aid and others barring unauthorized students from enrollment, and still others with no explicit policy governing access towards higher education for unauthorized youth. 

You can find out what your state policies are towards immigrant access to higher education on this map from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). Specific state information and context can also be found on this interactive map from America’s Quarterly.

A recent commentary on state legislation from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) notes that “since 2001, 17 states have enacted measures that would allow qualified unauthorized immigrant youth, often referred to as DREAMers, to pay resident tuition rates at their postsecondary institutions.”  Click to read the full commentary and to view a chart of the post secondary policies for the top 15 states of residence for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth.

Immigrants have and will continue to contribute to American public education. As our demography continues to shift, the contributions immigrants make in our communities and classrooms will help bring to light that education opens opportunities for career and civic engagement as proven by our immigrant past.  Simply put, we have much to lose in our immigrant future by not investing in the aspirations of all our students.

Additional Resources:


  • The DACA program created in 2012 provides temporary relief from deportation and work permits for up to two years if unauthorized youth meet age and other requirements. For information on DACA, please read the American Immigration Council’s DACA Resource Page.


The American Immigration Council offers free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to teach immigration. We also welcome teacher and student book reviews and contributions to our blog. Email us at teacher@immcouncil.org and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.