Why are so many undocumented students missing the benefits of dual enrollment? 

High school students who take dual enrollment courses are more likely to attend college and graduate than their peers who do not, but access for undocumented students varies widely. State financial aid and workforce policies often determine whether undocumented students can afford dual enrollment courses or have access to them at all, The Hechinger Report says.

Through dual enrollment, eligible students can take college-level courses at their high school or local community college, earning both high school and college credit. Upon successful completion of these courses, students can generally take fewer classes in college and save money on college costs.

States have differing requirements not only for dual enrollment eligibility but also for discounts on tuition, with several states either restricting or prohibiting access to in-state tuition for undocumented students, according to the Higher Education and Immigration Portal run by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a nonprofit group of higher education leaders and institutions, including Georgetown University.

In 26 states, dual enrollment is publicly funded and completely free to eligible students, Inside Higher Ed reports. However, in 12 states, public funding only partially covers costs, while 12 other states have no public funding for these programs, leaving some students and their families paying in-state tuition.

Affordable access to these programs becomes more complicated when accounting for students’ immigration status. In 18 states and Washington, DC, undocumented students, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, have access to in-state tuition and some state financial aid or scholarships, while in another four states, they have access to in-state tuition or reduced tuition in some but not all universities, according to research from the Higher Education and Immigration Portal. Six states limit undocumented students, including DACA recipients, to access only to in-state tuition, and in another five states, only DACA recipients have access to in-state tuition at least some public universities.

Six states prohibit undocumented students from accessing in-state tuition or state financial aid or scholarships altogether, and three states bar undocumented students from attending some or all postsecondary institutions. Another eight states and Puerto Rico have no known policies about undocumented students and higher education funding. 

Related: Without DACA protections, undocumented students meet increased barriers to college >

“Undocumented students are shut out of these opportunities, and it’s really alarming,” Gini Pupo-Walker, executive director of The Education Trust in Tennessee, tells The Hechinger Report. “The fact is, these are students whose families are paying taxes. And these are public institutions that they should benefit from attending.”

Expanding access to dual enrollment for current and future undocumented high school students can help reduce some of the biggest barriers to attending college. Of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, 352,000 are between 13 and 17 years old, and more than 1.4 million are ages 18 to 24, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Dual enrollment programs could play a crucial role in enabling those populations to pursue higher education, experts say.

Related: New report shows how states limit access to higher education for undocumented students >

Additional barriers to college

Along with policies that make dual enrollment cost-prohibitive for undocumented students, some states have additional requirements and restrictions that render certain undocumented students ineligible for dual enrollment. Some states require students to have attended a local high school for a certain number of years to qualify for dual enrollment, which leaves undocumented students ineligible if they recently arrived in the U.S.

Other students who may be eligible for dual enrollment might confront work permit restrictions that leave them ineligible for licensure in certain fields because of their immigration status. Only five states allow undocumented students to obtain occupational licensure in all professions, provided that they meet all other requirements, according to the Higher Education and Immigration Portal. 

Most states limit the professions that undocumented individuals can obtain licenses for, restrict licensure for those who have no access to work permits, prohibit undocumented people from professions that require licensure, or have no state policy related to occupational licensure for individuals who do not have legal immigration status.

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