New Report: More Than 450,000 Undocumented Students Enrolled in Colleges & Universities in United States


As SCOTUS decision looms, 87% of DACA-eligible students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, 13% are enrolled in graduate-level programs


April 16, 2020

Contact: Jose Magaña-Salgado (

Washington, D.C.—Today, New American Economy (NAE) and Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration released a groundbreaking new report, Undocumented Students in Higher Education: How Many Students are in U.S. Colleges and Universities and Who Are They?, showing for the first time how many undocumented students are enrolled at colleges and universities across the United States. As the COVID-19 pandemic underscores severe shortages in healthcare sectors across the country, this report shows that undocumented students are a crucial part of the pipeline towards filling that gap. Indeed, 39% of undocumented graduate students already hold a bachelor’s degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field. Already, 280,000 undocumented immigrants, including 62,000 DACA-eligible individuals, are serving on the front lines of the Coronavirus crisis as healthcare workers, according to NAE’s analysis. In addition, with the Supreme Court decision on DACA expected to come as early as this month, the report highlights the significant number of DACA-eligible individuals enrolled in higher education.

Among the report’s top findings are:

  • More than 450,000 (approximately 2% of all students) undocumented students are enrolled in higher education;
  • 87% of DACA-eligible students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, and 13% of DACA-eligible students are enrolled in graduate-level programs;
  • 216,0000 of these individuals hold or are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA);
  • The top five states with undocumented students in higher education are California (92,000), Texas (66,000), Florida (42,000), New York (33,000), and Illinois (21,000);
  • 82% of undocumented students are enrolled in public institutions while 18% attend private postsecondary institutions;
  • 90% of undocumented students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, and 10% percent of students are enrolled in graduate-level programs; and
  • Undocumented students are a diverse population in higher education, with Hispanic students accounting for 46% of undocumented students, compared to 25% for Asian students, and 15% for Black students.

You can view the full report here.

Miriam Feldblum, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Presidents’ Alliance, stated, “This new data represents a clarion call to Congress—with almost half a million undocumented students enrolled in our nation’s higher education institutions, it is incumbent upon Congress to prioritize legislation that removes barriers for existing students and expands opportunity for future cohorts. Congress must expand federal financial aid to undocumented students, including grants, loans, and work-study, and fully invest in immigrant students who continue to contribute and persevere in the face of significant adversity. Our communities and our nation need these students more than ever.”

“Whether they are DACA beneficiaries pursuing medical careers or adult learners studying at local community colleges, undocumented students have made untold contributions to our society, local communities, and their families. New estimates by the New American Economy & Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration bring the scope of this population, as well as its contributions, into clear focus. While the DACA-eligible population has received considerable attention, much less is known about those undocumented immigrants belonging to different age demographics, but who pursue higher education, nevertheless. As the report suggests, policies that have expanded access to higher education have been successful in increasing enrollment and providing undocumented students viable pathways to pursue education, training, and careers. These findings support more than a decade of research linking increased educational access with overall economic and societal impact,” said Roberto G. Gonzales, Professor of Education, Harvard University, and author of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America.

“As the data shows, opening the door to higher education for undocumented and DACA students has resulted in higher enrollment and graduation rates, which we know lead to economic benefits for entire communities,” said Andrew Lim, Director of Quantitative Research for New American Economy. “We call on all states to grab this opportunity and expand their state admissions, tuition, and financial aid policies to all students, regardless of immigration status.”

Teresita B. Wisell, Executive Director, Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, and Vice President for Workforce Development and Community Education, Westchester Community College stated, “This new report shows that many more undocumented students are enrolled in higher education than originally reported, and emphasizes the vital importance of expanding access and equity for our Dreamer and undocumented students, as well as DACA recipients. Community colleges often serve as the major gateway to further post-secondary opportunities, with many undocumented students actively training to fill critical skills shortages in health, STEM, teaching, and business fields. Now more than ever, we can and must support these students in every way. An investment in their future is an investment in our nation’s future.”

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The non-partisan Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration brings together college and university leaders dedicated to increasing public understanding of how immigration policies and practices impact our students, campuses and communities, and supporting policies that create a welcoming environment for undocumented, immigrant, and international students. The Alliance is comprised of over 450 presidents and chancellors of public and private colleges and universities, representing over five million students in 41 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. 

New American Economy (NAE) is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to smart immigration reform and changing the narrative around immigrants in America. NAE is a coalition of civic, business, and cultural leaders who span the political spectrum and represent all 50 states. NAE makes the case for smart immigration reform in four ways: 1) We use powerful research to demonstrate how immigration impacts our economy, 2) We organize champions at the grassroots and influencer levels to build support for immigration, 3) We partner with state and local leaders to advocate for policies that recognize the value immigrants add locally, and 4) We show immigrant contributions to American culture through film, food, art, sports, comedy, and more.