Background/Context: Undocumented immigrant postsecondary students are an understudied group on American campuses. The authors suggest that increased national attention on the topic of undocumented immigration warrants an in-depth study of a small subset of the larger undocumented population—college students.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The research questions guiding this analysis are: (1) How do the formal educational experiences of unauthorized college students affect their postsecondary education goals? (2) How do undocumented students attend college on a daily basis (e.g., transportation, finances, studying, employment, support networks)? (3) What role does social, political, and economic support play in unauthorized students’ success in college? The purpose of the analysis is to outline the most significant challenges that undocumented college students face in pursuing a postsecondary education. The intent is to inform a research community about those challenges and suggest future research directions.
Research Design: The manuscript begins with an overview of previous research on the topic of undocumented immigrant postsecondary students. The authors discuss three traditional areas in which first-generation, low-socioeconomic-status students encounter difficulties while pursuing a college education—financial obstacles, academic preparation, and perceptions of belonging. The article then considers the challenges these students face by way of a yearlong qualitative study that involved interviews and observations with 40 students and 5 educators knowledgeable about undocumented students. The authors frame these findings within a social capital theoretical framework that helps identify two themes—relationships and finances—concerning how undocumented students’ access to social capital can be limited by their immigration status.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Research pertaining to undocumented students is growing in its production and diversity. The authors conclude with recommendations for improving future research focusing on undocumented college students based on the project’s emerging themes.