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Toolkit | Access to Postsecondary Education


Estimates of Eligible Students

Undocumented Youth Comprise a Small Segment of the Student Population

Selected State Estimates



Reliable nationwide and state estimates of college students who are undocumented are difficult to obtain, since most institutions do not maintain data on these students. Any estimates are not easily compared, since the sources do not use uniform methods. Research generally concludes that the number of undocumented students who could benefit from tuition equity laws or policies represent a small fraction of the student bodies at state postsecondary institutions. This is not surprising, since over 80 percent of the children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens. These students typically are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates and to qualify for state financial aid, if otherwise eligible. Moreover, the majority of undocumented immigrants remain concentrated in a few traditional immigrant-receiving states.

Three of the four states with the largest number of undocumented immigrants (California, New York, and Texas) already permit students to qualify for in-state tuition, regardless of their status. Even with these laws in place, the number of undocumented students in postsecondary education institutions in these states is small. For immigrant students from low- and middle-income families, getting to college is an uphill battle.

Children of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States

Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010 (Jeffrey Passel and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Hispanic Center, Feb. 1, 2011).

  • Among the unmarried children of unauthorized immigrants nationwide, an estimated 1 million are unauthorized immigrants. The number of children in this group has declined from a peak of 1.6 million in 2005.
  • By contrast, the number of children born in the United States to unauthorized immigrant parents has more than doubled in the past decade, increasing from 2.1 million in 2000 to 4.5 million in 2010.

High School Graduates Who Are Undocumented

Further Demographic Information Relating to the DREAM Act (Jeffrey Passel, Urban Institute, Oct. 21, 2003).

  • Approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States five years or longer graduate from high school each year.

Undocumented Immigrant Youth by State

While estimates of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries are not the same as the numbers of students who would benefit from tuition equity laws, there are some similarities in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, time in the United States, and educational achievement.

MPI Updates National and State-Level Estimates of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries (Michelle Mittelstadt, Migration Policy Institute, Dec. 2010).

  • The update provides state-level estimates of unauthorized youth who would have been eligible for conditional legal status under one of the proposed federal DREAM Acts. The figures are based on the requirements in the U.S. House or Representatives version of the DREAM Act of 2010.
  • According to this analysis, slightly more than 1.9 million unauthorized youth and young adults would meet the age, time-in-country, and age-at-arrival requirements for conditional legal status.
  • It is likely that due to educational, poverty, and linguistic trends only about 775,000 (38%) of these immigrants are likely to satisfy the requirements.
  • The states with the largest numbers of undocumented immigrant youth are California (500,000), Texas (238,000), Florida (175,000), New York (135,000), and Arizona (101,000).

DREAM vs. Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries (Jeanne Batalova and Margie McHugh, Migration Policy Institute, July 2010).

  • The report estimates the number of potential beneficiaries under 2009 versions of the DREAM Act introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
  • This DREAM Act would provide a conditional path to lawful permanent residence to individuals who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, are under 35 years of age, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent in the U.S.
  • The report estimates that slightly more than 2.1 million unauthorized youth and young adults nationwide would meet the age, duration-of-United-States-residency, and age-of-arrival requirements for conditional status under the DREAM Act.
  • The ten states with the largest percentages of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries are California (26%), Texas (12%), Florida (9%), New York (7%), Arizona (5%), Illinois (4%), New Jersey (4%), Georgia (3%), North Carolina (2%), and Colorado (2%).