September 8, 2023

The Untapped Potential: Understanding the Undocumented Students in U.S. Colleges


Jose Flores

Over 408,000 undocumented students, known as "Dreamers," are enrolled in U.S. colleges, contributing significantly to the nation's diversity and economy. Despite their potential, they face challenges, notably a decline in DACA enrollments. State policies, like Texas's in-state tuition for these students, play a vital role in supporting their education. Embracing their potential and reducing barriers aligns with the principles of the American Dream.

The Silent Contributors to America's Future Have you ever wondered about the stories behind the faces you see on college campuses? Among the sea of students, there's a significant group that often remains in the shadows: the undocumented students. What challenges do they face, and what potential do they hold for the future of the United States?

The Numbers Behind the Faces

According to a recent article by Laura Spitalniak, an Associate Editor at Higher Ed Dive, there are over 408,000 undocumented students enrolled in U.S. colleges. This number represents 1.9% of all college students. But who are these students? The data reveals that 46% are Hispanic, 27% are Asian American Pacific Islander, 14% are Black, and 10% are White. These figures highlight the diversity and potential of this group. As the saying goes, "Diversity is the art of thinking independently together." So, why not harness this potential?

The Decline of DACA and its Implications

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been a beacon of hope for many undocumented students. However, the number of students eligible for or enrolled in DACA has seen a decline, dropping by 41,000 students from 182,000 in 2019. If the government doesn't expand the program's eligibility, this number is expected to continue its downward trend. Imagine being brought to the U.S. at a young age, growing up here, and then realizing that you're not eligible for DACA protections. It's like training for the Olympics your whole life and then being told you can't compete.

The Economic and Social Contributions of Dreamers

"Dreamers" is a term often used to describe undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. These individuals contribute significantly to the U.S. economy. The report from Higher Ed Dive emphasizes the importance of recognizing the economic contributions of Dreamers. It states, “In light of the economic contributions Dreamers already make, and the future talent and workforce potential represented by this student population, the new estimates underscore why Congress must pass legislation that offers Dreamers a permanent legislative fix,”

The Role of State Policies in Higher Education Accessibility

While DACA is a federal program, state policies play a pivotal role in making higher education accessible to undocumented students. Take Texas, for instance. With approximately 59,000 undocumented college students, it ranks second only to California. In 2001, Texas became the first state to offer in-state tuition and some financial aid to undocumented students through nonresidency requirements. Such policies not only benefit the students but also the states, as they tap into a reservoir of untapped potential.

The Path Forward: Lowering Barriers and Recognizing Potential

The report suggests that lowering barriers to higher education for undocumented students can lead to reduced high school dropout rates and higher student achievement. By creating an environment where these students can thrive, we're not just doing them a favor; we're investing in the future of the country.

Embracing the Future

In wrapping up, let's revisit the questions posed at the beginning: What challenges do undocumented students face, and what potential do they hold for the future of the United States? The challenges are evident: declining DACA enrollments, legal hurdles, and societal barriers. However, their potential is immense. By recognizing their contributions and providing them with the opportunities they deserve, we can ensure a brighter future for all. After all, isn't that what the American Dream is all about?

Special credit to Laura Spitalniak and Higher Ed Dive for shedding light on this important topic. Their dedication to bringing such issues to the forefront is commendable. To read the original article, visit Higher Ed Dive.