Restrictive State Policy Environments: Undocumented Students

Reconciling Federal, State, and Institutional Policies Determining Educational Access for Undocumented Students: Implications for Professional Practice

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States with restrictive policy environments either explicitly prohibit undocumented students from gaining admission to college, and/or deny the provision of in-state residency tuition to these students.

These environments are the most detrimental to undocumented students’ pursuit of postsecondary education. Thousands of graduating undocumented high school students can be denied admission, financial aid, or in-state residency tuition. However, for each of these challenges, there exist opportunities for inclusive institutional practices that can be implemented by private or even in some cases public institutions.

Policy Challenges




Private Institutions 

Of the institutions surveyed, only 13% admit undocumented students. Despite the low numbers of institutions that admit undocumented students, 75% of responding institutions do not have or "do not know" their admissions policy. Private institutions, by virtue of their status, have far more flexibility in establishing inclusive admissions policies than public institutions. Knowing their admissions policy and potentially seeking change is an excellent opportunity.
37% of institutions do not offer a form of institutional financial-aid. The remaining 63% of institutions are able to cultivate institutional financial aid by exercising the autonomy that being a private institution enables. Financial aid packages funded from private sources are a typical way of creating this opportunity.
Of the 12% of institutions that do not admit undocumented students, and of the 37% of private institutions that do not offer institutional financial aid, many consist of faith-based private colleges. Faith-based colleges can evoke their social-justice mission and values in helping to establish inclusive admissions or financial aid polices.

Public Institutions 

32% of institutions explicitly admitted undocumented students. Despite the restrictive environment, there are institutional best practices that can create inclusive admissions policies, such as not asking an applicant to disclose citizenship status.
44% of institutions surveyed do not have or "do not know" their admissions policy for undocumented students. There is the potentiality of the institution having the ability to admit undocumented students, and yet they are unaware of this potential.
80% of institutions do not offer in-state tuition to undocumented students who would otherwise qualify. There are still 16% of institutions that "do not know" their in-state residency policy. There is the potential for their institution to allow in-state residency tuition if the policy is understood.
Only 12% of institutions surveyed  provide a form of institutional financial aid to undocumented students. The remaining 88% of institutions have the ability to create financial aid opportunities made up of private sources.
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