Toolkit | Access to Postsecondary Education

Toolkit | Access to Postsecondary Education


TOOLKIT CONTENTSGeneral 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


STATE LAWS AND POLICIES THAT SEEK to improve access to higher education are premised on the value of a college education to individuals as well as the broader society. Independent research has examined the long-term benefits of tuition equity measures, including the higher income earned and increased taxes paid by college-educated individuals.


Tuition Equity Legislation: Investing in Colorado High School Graduates through Equal Opportunity Postsecondary Education (Elise A. Keaton, Center for Policy Entrepreneurship, Dec. 2008).

This report, prepared as the Colorado legislature considered a tuition equity bill, examines the social and economic impact of improving access to higher education, based in part on the experience of states with tuition equity policies in place. Findings include:

  • Test scores. “[C]hildren whose parents have at least some college education have higher cognitive levels, better scores in math and reading tests, and higher standardized test scores than peers whose parents have only achieved at or below a high school diploma.” Citing U.S. Census Bureau, College Board, and U.S. Department of Education.
  • Dropout rates. “[I]nitial assessments seem to indicate that tuition equity laws may have slowed the dropout rates for undocumented students and closed the dropout rate gap between Hispanic students and other students.” (Examines data from various states.)
  • Smoking. “An estimated 47.5 percent of male and 38.8 percent of female GED earners smoked compared with 11.9 percent of males and 9.6 percent of females with bachelor’s degrees.” Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Home ownership. “More than 80 percent of individuals with a graduate or professional degree own their own home compared with only 56 percent of individuals with less than a 9th grade education and only 68 percent of individuals with a high school diploma or a GED.” Citing U.S. Census data.
  • Fiscal impact. In its review of the fiscal analyses in states with tuition equity laws, the report found either indeterminate, little, or no negative fiscal impact resulting from these policies.


The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings (Jennifer Cheeseman Day and Eric C. Newburger, U.S. Census Bureau, July 2002).

  • The report confirms that earnings increase with educational level. Among adults ages 25 to 64, average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates, and $99,300 for workers with professional degrees (M.D., J.D., D.D.S., or D.V.M.).
  • Earnings differences by educational attainment compound over one’s lifetime. For full-time, year-round workers, earnings estimates over 40 years are about $1 million for high school drop-outs, $1.2 million for high school graduates, $2.1 million for college graduates, and $4.4 million for workers with professional degrees.

California’s Economic Payoff: Investing in College Access & Completion (Jon Stiles, Michael Hout & Henry Brady, Institute for the Study of Societal Issues for The Campaign for College Opportunity, April 2012).

  • For every dollar California invests in getting students into and through college, it receives a net return on investment of $4.50. The return for those who complete college is twice as high—$4.80—than for those who enter but fail to complete college—$2.40.
  • The return on the state’s initial investment is surprisingly quick; by the time a graduate reaches the age of 38, the state’s initial investment is repaid in full. The costs of investing in higher education would need to more than triple before it would fail to return the state’s original investment.
  • University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) graduates provide ongoing returns to the state averaging $12 billion annually, well above the state’s general fund expenditures for the UC, CSU, and California community college systems combined.
  • The investments in education are part of a continued and long-term strategy in building state infrastructure. Decreasing investments in higher education today would decrease state revenues substantially in the years to come.
  • The personal payoff for each Californian who earns a college degree is substantial—more than $1,340,000 on average over a lifetime, when compared to peers with only a high school diploma.  This amount has increased consistently over the last four decades for the overall state population and for individuals of all ethnic groups.
  • Entering and completing college dramatically alters an individual’s economic well-being, decreasing the expected time in poverty by nearly four years and the receipt of cash aid by more than two years.

Higher Education: Higher Pay, Higher Tax Revenue (The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis [Virginia], Jan. 22, 2013).

  • Earnings for adults increase with years of education and degree completion.
  • Virginia also sees a clear return on investment from a college education, since higher-earning individuals pay more in income, property, and sales taxes.
  • Immigrants in Virginia are already contributing to Virginia’s economy in important ways.

Maximizing Access to College for Immigrant Children Builds the Texas Economy (Center for Public Policy Priorities, Feb. 5, 2013).

  • The estimated general revenue used to support instruction and financial costs for these undocumented immigrant students totaled $21.63 million, while the students themselves paid $32.7 million in total tuition and fees.
  • Families headed by an undocumented immigrant in Texas paid an estimated $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010.
  • And in 2006, the Texas Comptroller found that undocumented immigrants in Texas generated more taxes and other revenue than they received in state and local benefits.
  • One study has shown that high-school drop-out rates of Mexican foreign-born non-citizen students in states with in-state resident tuition laws fell from 42 percent to 35 percent after implementation of the law.
  • A Texas worker who completes some college can increase their earnings potential by 96 percent. And those with a four-year degree or higher can increase their earning potential by as much as 139 percent.

Current Population Reports: Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009 (Camille L. Ryan and Julie Siebens, United States Census Bureau, Feb. 2012).

  • “Among all workers, higher educational attainment was generally associated with higher earnings. The median earnings ranged from about $18,000 for workers with less than a high school degree, to over $60,000 for those with an advanced degree. Workers with a regular high school diploma earned about $27,000, and those with a GED earned about $23,000. Those with a bachelor’s degree earned about $48,000.”
  • “People with the highest educational attainment were the least likely to be unemployed in any given month” during the period of January 2008 to December 2010.
  • “In August 2010, the unemployment rate for people with less than a high school diploma or GED was 13.3 percent, while the unemployment rate for people with an advanced degree was 4.1 percent. The respective rates for these two groups in March 2008 were 9.5 percent and 1.5 percent. High school graduates were more likely to be unemployed than bachelor’s degree holders within each month of this period.”


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 Employment Projections to 2022 (Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2013).

  • Projections through 2022 reveal that employment that requires at a minimum an associate’s degree will grow at a rate of 18 percent, whereas employment that requires a high school degree will grow at a rate of just 8 percent.

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.


Immigrant families contribute substantially to the cultural, civic, and economic life of local communities. Inclusive policies that welcome rather than marginalize newcomers are more effective in ensuring that all residents can benefit from their unique skills and contributions.

Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, January 2016).

  • The 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States collectively paid $11.64 billion in state and local taxes. ITEP’s analysis finds that their combined nationwide state and local tax contributions would increase by $805 million under full implementation of the Obama administration’s 2012 and 2014 executive actions and by $2.1 billion under comprehensive immigration reform.

State Fact Sheets (American Immigration Council).

  • For each state, the fact sheets that comprise this resource provide details on the portion of immigrants and naturalized citizens in the population and workforce, the state and local tax contributions of immigrants, and the economic impact if undocumented immigrants were removed from the state.
  • The fact sheets also highlight the education-related economic contributions of foreign students, the percentage of children of immigrants who are English-proficient, the number of immigrants with a college degree, and the percentage of naturalized citizens and U.S.-born children of immigrants who are registered voters.
  • The fact sheets include percentages of U.S.-born children who are Asian or Latino, the number of Asian and Latino–owned businesses, and the purchasing power of Asians and Latinos.

Immigrants Are Makers, Not Takers (Center for American Progress, February 2013).

  • “Mainstream economists have thoroughly debunked [the] … stereotype of immigrants as takers, finding that immigrants are a net positive for the economy and pay more into the system than they take out. In fact, immigrants’ contributions have also played a key role in prolonging the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund. And the truth is that the cost-benefit analyses that immigration restrictionists have used to make their wild cost projections simply are not well-rounded or accurate.”

All Immigration Is Local: Receiving Communities and Their Role in Successful Immigrant Integration (Michael Jones-Correa, Center for American Progress, Sept. 20, 2011).

  • This report builds on the Receiving Communities Initiative, a gathering of leading academics, practitioners, advocates, and local, state, and national officials in Washington, D.C., in December 2010, which examined the role of receiving communities in immigrant integration and whose goal was to reinvigorate immigrant integration in America.
  • The report identifies four key strategies for receiving communities: (1) encouraging leadership to address the changes that take place locally and to manage them effectively; (2) fostering contact between immigrants and the native-born; (3) building partnerships between state and local governments and new residents; and (4) reframing the issues to counter misconceptions about immigrants.