Higher Education

Immigrant origin youth are the fastest growing group of students in higher education today. A stunning 31% of all students in our colleges and universities are first or second generation youth—a 58 percent increase from 2000 to 2018. The majority (84%) of these students are citizens either by birth (68%) or through naturalization (16%).

While higher education has been facing steep declines in enrollment over the last decade in all but the most competitive of colleges, immigrant origin students provide a demographic beacon of hope that has gone largely unrecognized. They are the only group growing enrollments in higher education and are projected to be the primary group driving growth of the U.S. labor market into 2035. They play a particularly important role in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) sector of the economy: approximately a quarter of all STEM workers in our country and well over a quarter of all physicians and surgeons practicing in the United States are immigrant origin.

Immigrant-origin students are adding diversity to the mosaic that is higher education today: 85 percent of all Asian-American college students are immigrant origin as are 63 percent of Latine college students. Twenty-four percent of today’s Black college students are immigrant origin as are 10% of White students.


But is higher education recognizing these students and serving them well? Are they harnessing their energies, creating spaces of belonging, and easing pathways for students who are often first-generation to college?

Most colleges collapse immigrant origin students into broader ethnic groups failing to recognize the full migratory experience, including family separations, traumas and multilingualism, as well as being the first generation in a U.S. college.

Further, while the majority are citizens, the undertow that our broken immigration system imposes on their journeys is especially harmful for the 1 in 50 college students who are high school graduates but have yet to find a pathway to documented status because of the failure of Congress to fix our broken immigration system. These are students have graduated from our high schools, were accepted to college, and are full members of the American family in all ways except on paper. The Obama era DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) protections offered them a temporary reprieve from deportation, the possibility to work and, in some states, tuition assistance. Currently, these students are in limbo as the courts have blocked new applications since 2017; this means that today most undocumented college students are fully undocumented.

IIH DACA Timeline

In many states, they pay prohibitive out-of-state tuition and are not eligible for any form of financial aid, making college a nearly insurmountable journey.

Please see: Higher Education Immigration Portal

Please see President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration IMMIGRANT, INTERNATIONAL AND REFUGEE STUDENTS IN HIGHER ED: Did You Know?

Learn more

Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration Recording

  • Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration Recording
  • Teranishi, R., Suárez-Orozco, C. & Suárez-Orozco, M. (2011). Immigrants in community colleges. The Future of Children, 21(1), 153-169.

    Suárez-Orozco, C., Katsiaficas, D., Birchall, O., Alcantar, C. M., Hernandez, E., Garcia, Y., & Teranishi, R. T. (2015). Undocumented undergraduates on college campuses: Understanding their challenges and assets and what it takes to make an UndocuFriendly campus. Harvard Educational Review, 85(3), 427-463.

    Higher Ed Immigration Portal (2023)– an interactive resource

  • Higher Ed Immigration Portal (2023) A state-by-state breakdown of numbers of fist and second generation students and in-state tuition access for undocumented students
  • Enriquez, L (2021). Advancing equity for Undocumented Students and Students of Mixed-Status Families at the University of California. U.C. PromISE.

    Baum, S. & Payea, K. (2004). Education Pays: The benefits of higher education for individuals & society. College Board.

    Batalova, J. & Feldblum, M. (2020). Immigrant-origin students in U.S. higher education. Migration Policy Institute.

    Higher Ed Immigration Portal: Did you know?

    Higher Ed Immigration Portal

  • Higher Ed Immigration Portal
  • President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration

  • President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration