DACA Recipients’ Educational Prospects Shaped by Differing Tuition and Financial Aid Policies, and Varying Levels of Legal and Other Support across U.S., New Report Finds
WASHINGTON – Given the wide differences in college costs and state policies regarding tuition and financial aid for unauthorized students, higher education opportunities for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are driven largely by their state of residence, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report based on fieldwork in seven states finds. Community college tuition and fees at institutions examined for the report range from $600 for 12 credit hours at California community colleges to $4,500 at a metro-area college in Georgia, which bars DACA recipients and all unauthorized immigrants from in-state tuition.
Offering the first in-depth look at educational institutions’ involvement with DACA during its first two years, the report also finds great variation in the responses of adult education systems to DACA. Support has been hindered in many states by severe capacity constraints as well as a limited understanding, in some cases, of the DACA program’s rules. And a few states bar unauthorized immigrants from enrollment in federally funded adult education programs, which for many are a requirement for DACA eligibility.
The report, Lessons from the Local Level: DACA’s Implementation and Impact on Education and Training Success, examines the efforts of local actors in education, legal services and immigrant service provision in creating the infrastructure to reach potentially eligible youth, help them meet DACA’s educational requirements and apply for relief from deportation.
The varying levels of legal, academic, financial and other support for DACA students across the country has affected the program’s impact on college enrollment and persistence, the report’s authors find, with affordability and other challenges hardest to overcome for older individuals and those with less formal education. Still, the authors note that education officials in some states have reported DACA has increased the re-enrollment of high school dropouts, and has had a positive impact on recipients’ educational and career aspirations.
Implemented in August 2012, the DACA program provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and have a high school diploma or are enrolled in school or a qualifying adult education or training program. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had accepted more than 702,000 DACA applications as of Sept. 30, 2014.
“While the immigration and education fields have distinct missions, they are also increasingly interdependent, with the DACA program breaking new ground in requiring many potential applicants to return to school in order to qualify for immigration relief,” said Margie McHugh, director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “With DACA’s emphasis on high school completion and the long-standing emphasis of federal DREAM Act bills on two years of college completion, it is critical to take stock of how well state and local education and training systems are faring in meeting needs at the intersection of the immigration and education fields.”
The report examines a number of innovative outreach initiatives and other programs underway at high school, post-secondary and adult education levels as well as among legal services providers to reach out to the potentially DACA-eligible population. Among them are “mega workshops” arranged by legal service providers in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, which helped several hundred individuals a day apply for DACA, particularly younger and often more socially networked and academically successful youth. The success of these DACA efforts can serve as an outreach model for the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program announced by President Obama last November, offering deferred action to unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States five years or more and are parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
The report also examines initiatives to reduce financial, language and other barriers to educational success. While highlighting some promising outreach practices, the researchers found few examples of district-wide professional development or information dissemination focused on DACA, with expertise varying from school to school. They also noted varying levels of understanding among high school counselors of the local, state and federal college access policies and scholarships available for this student population, which is ineligible for federal financial aid or loans. In the adult education and training arena, the report documents a lack of navigation assistance for those seeking to access these programs, which often exist as isolated, unaligned services at the local level, with little information available that would aid immigration attorneys or community groups that seek to assist DACA youth in accessing career pathway programs that meet their needs.
“There are broad societal benefits to improving the educational outcomes and career preparation of DACA youth, especially in light of the ambitious goals most states have set for increasing college degree attainment and adding new skills and vitality to their workforce,” said Sarah Hooker, an MPI policy analyst. “States and their education and training institutions have much to learn from one another about effective approaches to support the success of this significant sub-group of the youth population.”
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders and activists, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities. For more on the center’s work, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/integration.