The Higher Ed Immigration Portal provides a profile of undocumented, international, and other immigrant-origin students who are enrolled in higher education in the United States. The data is derived from both partner and contributor organizations and publicly available datasets. This page provides an overview of the sources used to populate the project’s national- and state-level data.
Immigrant-Origin Students in Higher Education
The central source for immigrant-origin students in U.S. higher education is the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) October 2000 and 2021 Educational supplement. For the purposes of the portal and in order to construct a profile of immigrant-origin students who are in the United States for reasons other than temporary study, the data excludes international students who are in the U.S. on non-immigrant student visas. To do so, this analysis first used two additional data sources to estimate the number of international students, and then subtracted them from the population of first-generation immigrant students. You can learn more in the Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education report’s methodology section.
Immigrant-generation by institutional type. Source is the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 2020 Undergraduate Students (NPSAS:UG).
See NPSAS methodology here: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/about.asp
International Students in Higher Education
International student enrollment data comes from the Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education. This report is developed in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
The source of data on Optional Practical Training (OPT) participants by state comes from an analysis conducted by the Niskanen Center Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request The complete list of OPT participants by state can be found here.
The “Immigrant-Origin and International Students As Share of All Students Enrolled in Public and Private Colleges and Universities, 2021” graph in the National Data page contains both immigrant-origin and international student numbers. The data for immigrant-origin students comes from the Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education report. The data for international students comes from the 2022 Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Undocumented Students in Higher Education
Using the microdata of the 1-year sample from the 2021 American Community Survey (ACS), we first apply the methodological approach outlined by Harvard University economist George Borjas24 to study the subset of the immigrant population that is likely to be undocumented students in postsecondary education. We then use a set of criteria to identify potential international students based on factors such as school attendance, grade level, age, length of stay in the United States, and hours worked, and further exclude them from the group to arrive at our estimates about undocumented students.
Since DACA-eligible students are a subset of the total undocumented student population, we apply the guidelines for DACA from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to ACS microdata to restrict our data further. Further description of the American Immigration Council’s methodology of identifying undocumented and DACA-eligible students can be found in our methodology report of Map the Impact. You can learn more in the report’s methodology section here.
All Students in Higher Education
The source for the total number of students in higher education at the national and state level reflects fall 2021 data from the “Table 303.10. Total fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control of institution: Selected years, 1947 through 2031″ datasheet from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES has not yet released 2022 state-level data.
Undocumented High School Graduates
The source for undocumented high school graduates derived from fwd.us estimates based on data analysis from augmented 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) data of undocumented high school students. Most of the estimate comprises undocumented students in school who were 16 years old in 2021 and 18 in 2023. An additional, smaller number of those aged 17 to 19 in 2021 who may be graduating at ages 19 to 21 in 2023, adjusted for previous school participation trends of undocumented students, was added to the total eligible number of undocumented high school seniors in 2023. Additionally, undocumented minors paroled into the U.S. since 2021, mostly as asylum seekers, and of likely high school senior age in 2023 (ages 18 to 21) were included in estimates. Finally, total eligible seniors were downwardly adjusted by the average, national graduation rate of high school seniors to obtain a more precise estimated number of undocumented high school graduates.
All Immigrants in the U.S. and Immigrant Workers Filling Critical Skills Needs
Analysis and estimates produced by the American Immigration Council using various publicly available datasets. These include microdata from the American Community Survey (ACS), downloaded from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) database. You can learn more here.
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