Voices in Education

Are In-State Resident Tuition Policies Improving the Health Outcomes of Mexican Noncitizen Immigrants?
Amid heated immigration debates, researchers have primarily shown that restrictive immigration policies negatively impact Latina/o immigrant children and families’ health, education, and overall well-being. But what about policies created with a more welcoming spirit?

Despite anti-immigrant rhetoric, inclusive immigration policies, which extend immigrant rights and access to services, have proliferated. Can these policies counteract rising anti-immigrant sentiment and have a positive impact?

In-state resident tuition (IRT) policies, or state Dream Acts, are one of the most prevalent inclusive state immigration efforts. Overriding exclusive federal out-of-state tuition standards, IRT policies extend educational rights to qualified undocumented immigrant youth and young adults by lowering tuition costs. Some states go even further by offering financial aid and/or scholarship access, while others have adopted an IRT ban. Extent evidence finds that IRT policies improve the educational well-being of undocumented Latina/o immigrant youth and young adults.

Our article in the Spring issue of Harvard Educational Review extends evidence on IRT policies by examining potential health influences and spillover effects on family members and coethnic communities. Using sixteen years of national health data, a frequently used policy impact design, and Mexican noncitizens as a proxy for documentation status, we examine how IRT-related policies influence self-reports of fair/poor health for the following:
  1. Direct effects: High-school- and college-aged Mexican noncitizens
  2. Spillover effects: Parents, citizen siblings, and the broader Latina/o community
Our results are encouraging. Specifically, we find that, in states with an IRT policy, high-school- and college-aged Mexican noncitizens experience a respective 3 and 1.5 percentage point decrease in fair/poor health. And, the citizen siblings of these youth/young adults also benefit: fair/poor health decreases by 3 percentage points. We find suggestive evidence of spillover health benefits for parents but not for the broader Latina/o community. Evidence on IRT policies with state financial aid and IRT bans is more limited.

These findings merit cautious optimism. In part, they indicate that states can improve the health of undocumented immigrants by extending in-state resident tuition benefits. However, growing research and some of our more detailed findings suggest that simply offering in-state tuition may fail to address the high financial and emotional costs of attending college. In short, states need to do more.
But what exactly is unclear: What additional state supports would promote the full success of undocumented immigrant youth, young adults, and their families? How else can state legislators protect the health of their undocumented immigrant citizenry to ensure they become productive members of society? Perhaps most importantly—what kind of future might we create if immigration policies were founded on questions like these?
A special thanks to Olivia Piontek, an MA student at the University of Missouri, for her assistance in writing this blog. www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/90091/state-immigration-enforcement-policies.pdf

About the Author: Stephanie Potochnick is an Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and Public Health. She has expertise in the social demography of immigration and how programs and policies promote the education and health of immigrant children. Sarah May is a psychologist at University of Arizona Counseling & Psych Services in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. May focuses on the intersection of research and clinical practice, particularly with under-served populations and college students. Lisa Y. Flores is a Professor and Program Director of the Counseling Psychology program. She has expertise in the career development of women and Latino/as and the integration of Latino/a immigrants in rural communities.