DREAMing of College: The Impact of Restrictive and Accommodating In-State Resident Tuition Policies for Undocumented Students on College Choice and Preparation

Since 2001, 27 states have enacted policies that limit or facilitate college access for unauthorized immigrants. Using survey data from the Current Population Survey, administrative data from California and Texas, and a heterogeneous treatment effect difference-in-difference research design, this study determines the causal effect of in-state resident tuition (ISRT) policies for undocumented students on college choice, specifically the level and intensity of enrollment, and preparation, defined as the percentage of high school graduates meeting state curriculum guidelines. The results show that statewide bans on college enrollment and ISRT negatively impact college choice while policies that offer state-supported financial aid in addition to the tuition discount have positive effects. There is no measurable relationship between tuition discount policies without financial aid and college choice, likely because unauthorized immigrant households are quite poor. Accommodating ISRT policies, with and without financial, increase the college preparation of youth in California and Texas, suggesting that they have earlier effects on intermediate outcomes in the postsecondary pathway. While both accommodating policies raise educational achievement in the short term, in the long term, only policies that provide robust financial support translate into attainment.