Addressing Barriers for Undocumented Students

December 22, 2016

Initial Curators: Kelsie George, Campus Compact


Addressing the barriers for undocumented students in higher education requires cross-department cooperation and planning to ensure that the whole student is supported. By developing and providing financial, academic, legal, emotional, mental health and other support systems and resources for undocumented students on campus, higher education institutions can ensure college access and success for some of its most vulnerable students.

There are a multitude of ways that higher education institutions can support undocumented students by reaffirming the public purposes of higher education. Culture change and creating safe spaces for undocumented students to acknowledge and openly share their experiences is one facet of this work. Some institutions have developed faculty and staff trainings, support groups and established offices designed specifically to support undocumented students. This Knowledge Hub covers a variety of approaches to addressing the barriers undocumented students face.

Key resources

A) Postsecondary Education Resources

  • UndocuCollege Guide & Equity Tool: Working Toward Educational Equity & Inclusion of Undocumented Students at Institutions of Higher Education In California, Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC), March 2016
    This publication is meant to help students, faculty, staff and administrators at institutions of higher education in California work together across regions and systems to achieve the educational equity and inclusion of undocumented students.
  • Open Access: Integrating Immigrant Students Into America’s Community Colleges, Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, March 2014
    This report, based on a joint convening of the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good and CCCIE, explores the challenges and opportunities community colleges face as they serve increasingly diverse student populations, including undocumented students, and also examines policy changes at the state and national levels affecting immigration and postsecondary education. Presentations from CCCIE, American Association of Community Colleges, Asnuntuck Community College, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and United We Dream are highlighted.
  • Expanding Educational and Career Opportunities for Immigrant Students at Community Colleges, Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, November 2015
    CCCIE launched its National Survey on Increasing Opportunities for New Americans at Community Colleges in March 2015 to collect input from community college faculty, leadership and administrators on the opportunities and challenges faced in serving immigrant students. This document summarizes the key findings from CCCIE’s review of input from 160 community college respondents in 33 states that, taken together, account for well over 80% of the nation’s foreign-born respondents. While more than one-third of the respondents said their colleges include explicit references to support of immigrant students in their strategic or high-level plans, the survey found a wide variability in actual programs implemented on the ground.
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff, United We Dream DREAM Educational Empowerment Program, Own the Dream, National Immigration Law Center and the American Federation of Teachers, June 2016
    This practical guide provides concise, clear advice on how to best support students who might be eligible for, or have already obtained, DACA status.  It offers practical information such as where to find legal help, how to find the mobile DACA app, and valuable suggestions such as pairing youth with older DACA recipients as mentors.
  • Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth, A Guide for Success in Secondary and Postsecondary Settings, U.S. Department of Education, October 2015
    In an effort to ensure that all students have access to a world-class education that prepares them for college and careers, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide today to help educators, school leaders and community organizations better support undocumented youth, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
  • Toolkit: Access to Postsecondary Education, National Immigration Law Center
    This toolkit, developed by the National Immigration Law Center, includes resources on tuition equity, state laws & policies, student profiles, state fiscal analyses, social & economic impact, public opinion, legal challenges, organizing, and financial aid.
  • Support for Undocumented Students: Strategies and Best Practices for Scholarship Providers, Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC), October 2015
    This Best Practices Guide is intended for all scholarship providers and college access organizations but especially for community foundations and other community-based scholarship programs. While the guide offers information and advice for organizations at all levels of experience, we hope it will be especially helpful to scholarship providers that are taking their first steps to support undocumented students.
  • Scholarship Provider Assessment Tool, Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC)
    This assessment tool is meant to accompany E4FC’s Support for Undocumented Students: Strategies and Best Practices for Scholarship Providers. It can help you assess where you are in adopting the practices described in the Best Practices Guide.
  • Basic Facts about In-State Tuition for Undocumented Immigrant Students, National Immigration Law Center, June 2014
    At least seventeen states have laws permitting certain undocumented students who have attended and graduated from their primary and secondary schools to pay the same tuition as their classmates at public institutions of higher education.
  • States Take Varying Approaches to Immigration and Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 2010
    The lack of clear federal guidance on how states and public colleges should treat undocumented immigrants in higher education has led to different policies on admission, tuition, and state student aid.
  • College Advising Guide for Undocumented Students, Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling
    In 2009, the the Inclusion, Access, and Success Committee (formerly Human Relations) published its first edition of the College Advising Guide for Undocumented Students designed to provide assistance to high school counselors and other individuals who work with undocumented students. The feedback from high school counselors and college admission representatives was overwhelmingly positive.

B) Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Resources

  • In Their Own Words: A Nationwide Survey of Undocumented Millennials, United We Dream Network and Unbound Philanthropy, May 2014
    In Their Own Words: A National Survey of Undocumented Millennials is one of the largest surveys to date on any segment of the undocumented population in the U.S. The survey provides new insights related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, life after DACA, and the experience of “coming out” as undocumented, as well as a first-of-its-kind look at the civic engagement and political incorporation of undocumented youth, among several other important topics.
  • In Defense of DACA, Inside Higher Education, November 2016
    Amid uncertainty over Trump presidency, college leaders sign on to a statement calling for the continuation of a program that has benefited undocumented college students.
  • Policy Brief: DACA Youth Strengthen Illinois’ Economy, National Immigrant Justice Center: A Heartland Alliance Program, August 2015
    A survey of 200 DACA recipients in the Chicago area by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), with the assistance of Assistant Professor Tom K. Wong at the University of California, San Diego, demonstrates that providing legal status to undocumented immigrants has wide-ranging, positive impacts.
  • Diploma, Please: Promoting Educational Attainment for DACA- and Potential DREAM Act-Eligible Youth, Migration Policy Institute, September 2014
    The report explores the challenges to educational attainment facing three key subgroups of the DACA program: those under age 19, those age 19 and over without a high school diploma or equivalent, and those age 19 and older with only a high school diploma or equivalent. It provides a demographic snapshot of these groups and examines the impacts of DACA’s unprecedented educational requirement on potential beneficiaries and the programs that serve them. Finally, the report offers recommendations for actions that policymakers, education and training program managers, and other stakeholders can take to support the educational success of these youth.

C) Advocacy Resources

  • Numbers that Matter: Using Immigration Data to Support Change (Webinar), The Immigration Learning Center, December 2016
    Knowing the data is the first step for effective advocacy, research and education initiatives concerning immigration. This was the overall theme of Numbers that Matter: Using Immigration Data to Advance Change, the latest free webinar from The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) Public Education Institute in Malden, MA, on December 6, 2016. Attendees from 39 states learned from experts in research, advocacy, immigrant integration and education while sharing their own ideas with colleagues from around the country.
  • Post-Election: What Educators can do to Support Undocumented Students, Educators for Fair Consideration, November 2016
    Post-Election: What Educators Can Do To Support Undocumented Students provides concrete examples of actions you can take—on an institutional level, alongside students, and as an individual—to protect undocumented students, increase support services, and ensure college access and graduation.
  • Post-Election: Recommendations for School Administrators, Educators, Counselors, and Undocumented Students, My Undocumented Life, November 2016
    This blog post from My Undocumented Life identifies steps that schools and universities can take to support undocumented students.
  • Advocacy & Organizing Toolkits, National Immigrant Justice Center: A Heartland Alliance Program, November 2016
    NIJC and the Detention Watch Network have produced two toolkits to help advocates and communities hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement accountable for the humane treatment of immigrants in detention.
  • Report: Reaching Illinois Immigrant Communities: Building Legal Services Capacity in Advance of Immigration Reform, National Immigrant Justice Center: A Heartland Alliance Program, March 2014
    The report, Reaching Illinois Immigrant Communities: Building Legal Services Capacity In Advance of Immigration Reform, assesses the capacity of the state’s 40 immigration legal aid organizations to meet the current demand for immigration legal services, as well as the anticipated demand that would be created by much-needed federal immigration reform. The report also provides guidance to foundations and donors whose investment in immigration legal services is needed now to ensure immigrants and their families secure due process and legal relief.


  • is a searchable online directory of over 940 free or low-cost nonprofit immigration legal services providers in all 50 states. Only nonprofits that are BIA recognized or have attorneys on staff are included in the directory. Users can search by state, county, or detention facility. Users can also refine their search by types and areas of legal assistance provided, populations served, languages spoken, other areas of legal assistance, and non-legal services provided.
  • National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
    Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.
  • Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC)
    We envision an America where all young people can pursue and complete an education with confidence and without constraint.
  • National Council of La Raza, College and Beyond
    The National Council of La Raza supports initiatives focused on helping Latinos access, transition into, and complete higher education, with an emphasis on equity. At the state and federal levels, we call for policies that make higher education affordable, minimize student debt burdens, and hold academic institutions accountable for the increased retention and graduation of Latino students.
  • Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Immigrant Rights Project
    The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. SRLP is a collective organization founded on the understanding that gender self-determination is inextricably intertwined with racial, social and economic justice. Therefore, we seek to increase the political voice and visibility of low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex, or gender non-conforming. SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health, and legal services for our communities. We believe that in order to create meaningful political participation and leadership, we must have access to basic means of survival and safety from violence.
  • DreamActivist
    DreamActivist is a community of over 300,000 activists from around the country. DreamActivist was founded in 2008 as a safe space for undocumented youth to organize. After initially focusing efforts on passage of the federal DREAM Act, DreamActivist soon grew to become the platform for young people and their parents to fight deportations online. We have given hundreds of activists across the country the tools and know-how to organize. With each success, DreamActivist members took stronger, bolder action, drew new lines in the sand, and pushed the immigrant rights movement toward bigger and better victories. The work of DreamActivist, which spearheaded new and innovative ways to take action, is replicated today in every major organization advocating for the rights of immigrants
  • The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
    The Young Center is a champion for the best interests of children who arrive in the United States on their own, from all corners of the world. We serve as trusted allies for these children by accompanying them through court proceedings, advocating for their best interests, and standing for the creation of a dedicated juvenile immigrant justice system that ensures the safety and well-being of every child.


  • Northeastern Illinois University, Undocumented Students Project
    The Undocumented Students Project created a resource guide for Northeastern Illinois University’s faculty and staff to ensure everyone on Campus provides our undocumented students with the tools and resources they need to successfully pursue their education. The guide is used in conjunction with the Undocumented Students Ally Training, which over 100 faculty and staff have completed.
  • Chicago Public Schools, DREAMer’s Pathway To College
    The information provided on this page is targeted toward undocumented students. The page aims to guide undocumented students through the college planning process; introduce them to options for life after high school; connect them to trusted resources; and provide answers to some of their most pressing questions.
  • Miami Dade College, Adult Education/EL Civics Program
    These programs combine academics (ESOL, citizenship, and GED preparation classes) with student services (financial literacy, health literacy, children’s tutoring, and family-oriented cultural activities.) The communities served are home to the poorest immigrant populations in Miami-Dade County and include Hispanic, Haitian, and European (mainly Russian) immigrants and their families. Quality and dedication of instructors and staff and community partnerships are critical to success, as evidenced by outstanding retention, test scores, and participation in post-secondary or GED Preparation programs.
  • Oakton Community College, Educational Access Creates Hope (EACH)
    Our mission is to support undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)* students and their families through advocacy, training, and employee education, identifying and promoting financial resources and removing barriers to admissions and student success
  • Rio Hondo Community College, Achieving the Dream Initiative
    Rio Hondo’s Achieving the Dream initiative (no relationship to the national Achieving the Dream consortium) supports undocumented students through education, motivation, building coalitions, conducting outreach, and expanding scholarship opportunities. A highly successful Achieving the Dream conference, co-organized by the student group Students Without Borders and Rio Hondo’s Student Services staff, brought about 150 high school students on campus to learn about launching an educational plan and the various resources available. SWB works with several national and community organizations and actively promotes scholarship and financial support opportunities.
  • Saint Peter’s University, The Center for Undocumented Students (TCUS)
    The mission of TCUS is to support the academic work of undocumented students at the University, to shed intellectual light on the political and economic realities of immigration in our world today and to create a community where undocumented students feel welcome. TCUS will work with community organizations, government agencies, high schools and other Jesuit colleges and universities to create better access to higher education and increase retention rates among undocumented youth.

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