How are colleges supporting undocumented students amid DACA limbo?

In the two years since President Donald Trump announced that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the uncertainty and family upheaval faced by undocumented students have prompted colleges to “rethink the services they offer and how they offer them,” writes Education Dive.

Since Trump’s September 2017 announcement, the DACA program has accepted no new applicants, the Longview News-Journal reports. The Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments to shutter the Obama-era program, which provides people who entered the United States without documentation before the age of 16 with “temporary protection from deportation, work authorization, and the ability to apply for a social security number,” according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. In the meantime, those previously awarded DACA status have existed in a state of limbo, renewing permits and entering college and the workforce, wondering if or when their lives may be upturned.

Colleges prioritizing support for undocumented students

More than 200,000 undocumented students were enrolled in American colleges and universities in 2014. For many, the stability and success of their academic and professional careers hinge on the campus support available to them. As of May 2018, at least 56 colleges and universities had created support centers for undocumented students.


Georgetown, 400+ universities urge Congress to protect undocumented students


“Administrators are beginning to recognize that inclusion in higher education does not and should not end at access,” said Jesus Cisneros, an education professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has studied university resources for undocumented students.

Supporting DACA participants at ECSU

Today’s undocumented students face unique pressures that require dedicated attention from university administrators. For example, as Trump directs U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to crack down on illegal immigration, some students are contending with news that their family members have been detained and deported. Such events can significantly disrupt a student’s academic career.

Elsa Núñez, the president of Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU), tries to support the 220 students at ESCU who participate in the DACA program by offering them emergency travel resources, legal aid, and mental health counseling. If students find their family detained or deported, ECSU encourages them to work with their professors to find the right time to leave campus and provides those students with funds for a round-trip airline ticket and incidentals. As a result, all ECSU students in this position have returned to school.

Núñez says that ECSU plans for a range of possibilities in order to support undocumented students’ academic success. The university tells students that if they must leave the United States, the school will allow them to complete their degrees online and will assist in their job search.

“You’ve got to think ahead and offer them the psychological coaching that allows them to think past the negative decision,” says Núñez. “Giving them hope is really important.”

Learn more about Georgetown’s support for undocumented students at

Topics in this story

Next Up

UC president urges system to drop SAT/ACT requirement

University of California President Janet Napolitano this week shared a plan to phase out use of the ACT and SAT in admission decisions—the latest installment in a closely watched debate over the system’s testing requirements.