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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Opportunities and Barriers to the American Dream: Impacts of In-State Tuition Policies on Higher Education Access for Undocumented and Documented Students

  • Author(s): Kang, Connie
  • Advisor(s): Farkas, George
  • et al.

Because financial barriers are such a big obstacle to college access for students, and then even more so for vulnerable population such as undocumented immigrants who are unable to qualify for tuition benefits due to immigration status, the purpose of this dissertation is to explore what the effects of policies that extend in-state tuition to undocumented students and those that ban these benefits to undocumented students on their college access and persistence. This study also explores the impacts on documented immigrants as while this population isn’t the targeted population of these policies, they may also be impacted due to higher education being a limited good in terms of the total number of students they can admit each year. To do this, this study utilizes an original database built from combing through records of policies passed over the time period from 2000-2016 as well as an imputation strategy that has never been utilized to specifically study the impacts of these education policies. The results of the study are consistent with previous studies that have shown that policies banning in-state tuition have a detrimental impact on undocumented students’ college enrollment. However, this study shows that while enrollment of undocumented immigrants in states with these policies extending in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students was higher than enrollment of undocumented immigrants in states without these policies, states that implemented these policies had higher college enrollment of undocumented immigrants to begin with. These results differ from previous studies and seem to suggest reverse causality, where states with higher rates of undocumented immigrants in college may have introduced these policies as a consequence, not a cause, of this undocumented college enrollment. Or, perhaps more likely, states with relatively large Hispanic communities may have had higher undocumented college enrollment as well as a stronger “push” to pass the relevant legislation.

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