Report Highlights Undocumented Students’ Vital Role in Addressing Workforce Gaps

August 2, 2023
Last modified: 
August 2, 2023

WASHINGTON—The American Immigration Council and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration released a report today, shedding light on the enrollment trends and economic contributions of undocumented students in U.S. colleges and universities. The report, “Undocumented Students in Higher Education: How Many Students Are in U.S. Colleges and Universities, and Who Are They?” underscores the essential role undocumented students—including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients—play in filling critical workforce gaps in healthcare, education, STEM fields, and other sectors, while contributing significantly to the national and regional economies.

The report draws from U.S. census data to reveal that over 400,000 undocumented students, comprising 1.9% of all college students in the country, were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 2021. This figure represents a 4.2% decrease from 2019, attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic pressures, as well as ongoing legal challenges to the DACA program.

The report emphasizes that DACA-eligible students, who are essential contributors to the workforce, have seen a decline in numbers from 182,000 in 2019 to 141,000 in 2021. The limited eligibility criteria for DACA have been a primary factor, excluding individuals who arrived in the U.S. after 2007, leaving many young individuals unable to access the program.

“These students are the future talent and workforce potential of our country,” said Steven Hubbard, senior data scientist at the American Immigration Council. “Their pursuit of higher education will lead to reduced dropout rates, increased college enrollment, and greater economic contributions, all while enhancing our country’s economic competitiveness.”

The report reveals that increasing access to higher education for undocumented students would have wide-ranging benefits, including higher student achievement, reduced high school dropout rates, and increased earning potential.

“The new findings tell an important story about the drive and resilience of undocumented students, with an increased proportion pursuing graduate study and obtaining degrees in high demand fields, such as STEM and healthcare. It also speaks to the stark reality facing undocumented students, the vast majority of whom do not have the protections or work authorization of DACA. It underscores the need for Congress to act and provide a pathway to citizenship so that these students, three-quarters of whom arrived in the U.S. at a young age, can launch their careers and fully contribute to our country,” said Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.

To access the full report, click here.

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