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Toolkit | Access to Postsecondary Education


Social & Economic Impact of Improving Access to Higher Education for Immigrant Students

General Findings from a 2008 Report

Investing in Post-Secondary Education Yields Higher Earnings and Increased State Revenues

Tuition Equity Policies Reduce Drop-Out Rates and Increase Access to College

A State’s Economic Competitiveness Depends on Maintaining a Highly Educated Populace

Resources on Social & Economic Contributions of Immigrants



In-State Tuition for the Undocumented: Education Effects on Mexican Young Adults (Neeraj Kaushal, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Sept. 29, 2008). (May be purchased from Wiley Online Library.)

  • Tuition equity policies were associated with a 2.5 percentage point (31 percent) increase in college enrollment, a 3.4 percentage point (14 percent) increase in the proportion with at least a high school diploma, a 3.7 percentage point (37 percent) increase in the proportion with at least some college education (including those without a college degree), and a 1.3 percentage point (33 percent) increase in the proportion of Mexican young adults with a college degree.
  • The study also found evidence that tuition equity policies caused a small increase in the proportion of U.S.-born young adults with a college education and raised the college enrollment of U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage. A tuition subsidy for students regardless of status may increase awareness of the benefits of a college education and lower its costs, in turn improving higher education opportunities for citizens with Mexican parents.

Do In-State Tuition Benefits Affect the Enrollment of Non-Citizens? Evidence from Universities in Texas (Lisa M. Dickerson and Matea Pender, 2010).

  • This study finds that providing in-state tuition rates to noncitizens increases the probability of noncitizens enrolling in college. It appears that this policy had a significant positive impact on the probability of enrollment at public universities, such as University of Texas-San Antonio and University of Texas-Pan American, two public universities that already enrolled a large number of Latinos.

State Dream Acts: The Effect of In-State Resident Tuition Policies and Undocumented Latino Students (Stella M. Flores, 2010). (Copy may be purchased at ERIC website.)

  • This study finds that the availability of an in-state resident tuition policy positively and significantly affects the college decisions of students who are likely to be undocumented, as measured by an increase in their college enrollment rates.
  • Data indicates that tuition equity policies significantly increase the college enrollment rates of Latino foreign-born noncitizens, a large percentage of whom are undocumented.
  • Foreign-born noncitizen Latinos are 1.54 times more likely than not to have enrolled in college after the enactment of the tuition policies, compared to the same population in the rest of the U.S. 

How States Can Reduce the Dropout Rate for Undocumented Immigrant Youth: The Effects of In-State Resident Tuition Policies (Stephanie Potochinick, paper presented at the Population Association of America Annual Meeting, March 31–April 2, 2011).

  • This paper examines whether tuition equity policies reduce the likelihood that Mexican-born noncitizens will drop out of high school.
  • For states that adopted the policy, the average dropout rate decreased by 7 percentage points—from 42 percent to 35 percent.
  • No evidence suggests that in-state tuition policies adversely affect other ethnic/racial groups.
  • States with long migration histories may have more extensive support networks to help immigrant youth take advantage of the policy and succeed in school.

In-State College Tuition Policies for Undocumented Immigrants: Implications for High School Enrollment Among Non-citizen Mexican Youth (Robert Bozick and Trey Miller, Population Research and Policy Review, Feb. 2014, Vol. 33, Issue 1, pp. 13-30). (May be purchased from

  • Mexico-born non–U.S. citizen youth living in states that offer access to in-state tuition rates for undocumented youth are 65 percent more likely to be enrolled in school than their peers living in states with no explicit policy.
  • Conversely, Mexico-born noncitizen youth who live in states that restrict access to in-state tuition for undocumented students are less likely to be enrolled in high school than peers in states with no explicit policy.
  • 78.6 percent of Mexico-born noncitizen youth ages 15-17 living in restrictive states are enrolled in high school compared with 90.9 percent of Mexico-born noncitizen youth living in states that grant access to in-state tuition rates.
  • These findings support the conclusion that tuition-equity policies encourage youth to pursue educational opportunities in the long-term.



Studies demonstrate that individuals with college degrees, who consequently earn higher wages, are less likely to experience long periods of unemployment and are less likely to rely on social services. Many businesses also choose to locate in areas with a highly educated workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, jobs for which demand is growing fastest increasingly require at least a college education.

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Labor).

  • Projections through 2018 reveal that employment that requires an associate’s degree or greater will grow at double the rate of employment that requires on-the-job training. For example, employment that requires at minimum an associate’s degree will grow at a rate of 19 percent, whereas employment that requires short- or long-term on-the-job training will grow at a rate of just 8 percent.

Graph: Percentage change in employment by education or training category

Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates (Hans Johnson and Ria Sengupta, with contributions from Patrick Murphy, Public Policy Institute of California, 2009).

  • California lags behind many other states in the production of college graduates. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the state's economy increasingly demands more highly educated workers. Over the past 26 years, the share of college graduates in the state's workforce has increased to 34 percent, but the report projects that 41 percent of the jobs in 2025 will require a college degree.
  • Two demographic shifts contribute to this trend: The relatively well educated baby-boom cohort is beginning to leave the workforce, and groups with historically low rates of college completion are now entering the state's workforce population. Absent dramatic increases in college attendance and graduation, only 37 percent of workers in California will have college degrees in 2025.
  • The gap between the demands of California's economy and the supply of college-educated workers is a serious impediment to the state’s economic future. Less-educated adults have lower incomes and labor force participation rates and they require more social services than more highly educated adults. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems projects that California's low educational attainment levels among fast-growing groups will lead to substantial declines in per capita income between 2000 and 2020, placing California last among the 50 states in terms of change in per capita income.
  • California's young adult population increasingly is composed of Latinos and other groups with historically low levels of educational attainment. Although Latinos have experienced strong intergenerational progress in educational attainment, rates of college attendance and graduation remain relatively low.
  • California can increase its production of baccalaureates by increasing enrollment in the higher education systems, increasing the transfer rates from community colleges to four-year colleges and universities, and improving the completion rates for students already enrolled in four-year colleges and universities.