Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA, is a policy that protects eligible immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation. Because they’re neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents, DACA students often face many hurdles when accessing a college education. DACA Dreamers don’t get free college, and college acceptance has hurdles.

But despite the challenges, New American Economy found that DACA students who finish their degree see a boost of more than 70 percent in their income and go to work in an array of industries, including science, health care, technology, design and education — all of which are essential to the U.S. economy.

Key DACA student statistics

  • There are approximately 181,000 DACA students or DACA-eligible students in the U.S., accounting for less than 1 percent of all college students in the U.S.
  • More than 83 percent of DACA students are enrolled at public institutions, while roughly 17 percent are enrolled at private institutions.
  • California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois have the largest populations of DACA college students.
  • About 70 percent of DACA students identify as Hispanic, while a little over 16 percent identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander and only 5.3 percent identify as Black.
  • Most DACA students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, with only about 13 percent enrolled in graduate school.
  • Female DACA recipients are more likely to attend college than their male counterparts.
  • In 2015, 45 percent of DACA recipients were enrolled in school and employed.
  • DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid, including federal student loans, grants and work-study programs.
  • California, Oregon, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma are among the 19 states where DACA-eligible students qualify for both in-state tuition rates at public universities and state financial aid.
  • Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are the three states that offer the least support to DACA college students, even barring them from enrolling at certain public institutions.
  • On average, undergraduate DACA students who live in states where they don’t have access to resident tuition rates can expect to pay about $44,000 a year at public four-year institutions between tuition, fees, room, board and other college expenses.

The cost of college for DACA students

Paying for college as a DACA student is not an easy feat.

First and foremost, DACA students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, including grants or federal student loans. This alone puts DACA students in a tough position regarding funding their degrees.

Additionally, U.S. students typically have access to cheaper tuition rates if they attend a public university in their state of residence — but DACA students don’t always have access to this.

Certain states, including Wisconsin, Missouri and North Carolina, not only ban DACA recipients from getting resident tuition rates at public institutions but also don’t offer state assistance to help them cover the cost of college. Other states, like Georgia, ban them from enrolling at some public universities, making it harder for them to afford an education.

Because of this, DACA students living in a restrictive state can expect to pay an average of $44,150 a year at public four-year schools between tuition, fees, room and board and other college expenses — the average paid by nonresident students. Students who attend a private college will pay even more, an average of $55,800.

Tuition and financial equity for DACA students across different states

States with the most comprehensive benefits for DACA students
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
States with the most restrictions for DACA students
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina

Comprehensive benefits include access to enrollment at public colleges and universities, resident tuition rates, state aid and scholarships. Restrictions include barring DACA students from resident tuition rates, enrollment at public institutions and state aid at public universities.

DACA student graduation rates

A study by the Migration Policy Institute found that DACA recipients are less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than U.S. adults; it is estimated that 17 percent of U.S. adults completed a bachelor’s degree in 2017, compared to only 4 percent of DACA recipients. The study also found that female DACA recipients are more likely to finish college than their male counterparts.

It’s worth noting that when the study was published, 18 percent of DACA recipients were enrolled in college. The number of DACA recipients with a college degree could substantially increase in future years.

Popular careers among DACA college graduates

College-educated DACA recipients fill key roles within the U.S. economy in various fields, including health care, science, education, design and technology. DACA recipients who attend college get a salary boost of 73 percent on average.

Top 10 occupations for DACA college graduates

Occupation Number of DACA recipients in the field as of 2017
Accountants and auditors 4,129
Registered nurses 3,404
Postsecondary teachers 3,022
Managers (including postmasters) 2,981
Elementary and middle school teachers 2,872
Software developers 2,817
Computer scientists and systems analysts 2,174
Customer service representatives 2,170
Waiters and waitresses 2,125
Designers 2,015

Source: New American Economy

How to lower the cost of college for DACA students

DACA students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid; however, there are a few options they can explore to reduce out-of-pocket college costs, including:

  • Scholarships: Just like grants, scholarships are a form of gift aid (aka free money) that can be used to cover not only tuition costs but also other college expenses, including materials, books, room and board. Several organizations offer scholarships exclusively for DACA students, including TheDream.US and Golden Door Scholars. You can also ask your school or use a scholarship search engine to find scholarships that may interest you.
  • State financial aid: Some states, like California, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, have grants, institutional scholarships and other forms of aid in place for DACA-eligible students who complete a special form. To find out whether your state offers these opportunities and instructions on how to apply, visit its website or contact your school of choice to learn more.
  • In-state public institutions (where applicable): If you live in a state where DACA students can enroll at public colleges or universities, you should consider those as your first choice, as you could save thousands of dollars in tuition and fees alone.
  • Private student loans: Securing a private student loan as a DACA student may be a tall order, as you’ll need good credit or a creditworthy co-signer to be approved for the loan. However, some companies, like Ascent and Earnest, offer private student loans that don’t require a co-signer. If you choose this option, shop around for quotes to secure the best terms and interest rates available to you.

The bottom line

DACA students do not have access to federal financial aid, but there are options for Dreamers to access aid that will help pay for the cost of education. DACA students who complete college go on to work in essential industries across the economy and are likely to see a significant boost to their income compared to those who do not attend college.

Frequently asked questions

  • Nearly half of all states — 24 in total — allow DACA students to get in-state college tuition, which lowers the cost of tuition for these students. These students are still not allowed to receive federal financial aid, but this lowers the cost of attending college by thousands of dollars per year.