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State Data

Higher education in the U.S. benefits from the participation of immigrant and international students. First and second-generation individuals comprise 31% of all students enrolled in higher education, a growing figure that underscores the importance of immigrant-origin students in the classroom and our workforce.

All Students in Higher Education in Colorado342,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students35,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students39,000
International Students9,920

Note: First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S. Second-generation immigrants are U.S.-born individuals with at least one immigrant parent. First-generation immigrants include undocumented immigrants. First-generation immigrants do not include international students on a visa.

The U.S. is home to more than 408,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education. In their pursuit of higher education, undocumented students actively ready themselves to fill critical skill shortages and become better positioned to support their families, communities, and the U.S. economy.

Undocumented Students in Higher Education5,946
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education3,388
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year2,000

Note: Undocumented students are a sub-group of first-generation students.

International students comprise only 4 percent of all students in higher education, but provide significant economic, academic and cultural contributions that enrich learning, enrollment and funding opportunities for American students.

International Students in Higher Education9,920
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$359.2 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State3,617
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants1,734

Note: Optional Practical Training participants are a subgroup of international students.

Immigrant residents, including undocumented immigrants and DACA-eligible residents, play an important role in the state's economy, contributing spending power and paying federal, state, and local taxes.

All Immigrant Residents in Colorado560,520
Immigrant Share of Total Population9.6%
Undocumented Immigrants in State147,536
DACA-Eligible Residents in State18,632
Spending Power of DACA-Eligible Residents$432.0 million
DACA-Eligible Residents Federal Tax Contributions$69.4 million
DACA-Eligible Residents State and Local Tax Contributions$48.1 million

Note: DACA-eligible residents are a sub-group of undocumented immigrant residents.

Higher education helps prepare all students, including immigrant and international students, to fill critical career and skills needs.

State Immigrant Workers Fill Critical Skills Needs
Share of STEM Workers Who Are First-Generation Immigrants12.2%
Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants17.6%
First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools11,873
Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential55%

Note: First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S.

You can find additional state data, including by congressional district, in the following resources by immigrant population (AIC) and international students (NAFSA).

State Policies

Evaluating Access for Undocumented & Refugee Students

State policies in four key areas – in state tuition, state financial aid, professional and occupational licensure, and driver licenses – play an important role in expanding access to higher education and workforce development for undocumented students. The section below on in-state tuition also includes policies related to refugee students.

  • In-State Tuition & State Financial Aid Access and Affordability

    Comprehensive Access: Policies provide statewide access to in-state tuition and some state financial aid or scholarships for the state's resident DACA recipients and undocumented students.

  • Professional & Occupational Licensure Workforce Entry & Eligibility

    Comprehensive Access: Policies allow individuals to obtain occupational licensure in all professions regardless of their immigration status, provided that they meet all other requirements.

  • Driver Licenses & Identification Mobility

    Accessible: Policies provide the state’s undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and/or state identification regardless of their immigration status, but these are not REAL ID compliant.

Enacted Policies

Colorado provides eligible undocumented residents, including DACA recipients, with access to in-state tuition, state financial aid, and driver licenses and state identification.

Colorado has statewide legislation that extends occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals, including DACA recipients.

In-State Tuition

Colorado Senate Bill (S.B.) 13-033, signed into law on April 29, 2013, provides eligible undocumented students with access to in-state tuition in Colorado. Students must meet certain requirements to access in-state tuition, including:

  1. Must have attended a public or private high school in Colorado for at least three years immediately preceding graduation;
  2. Must have been admitted to or already attend a public college or university in Colorado within 12 months of graduating or completing a GED; and,
  3. Must sign an affidavit stating that they have applied for lawful presence or will apply as soon as they are able.

Students who qualify for all other requirements but were not admitted to an institution within 12 months after graduating or completing a general equivalency diploma may still be classified as an in-state student for tuition purposes as long as they have been physically present in Colorado on a continuous basis for at least 18 months prior to enrolling.

Refugee In-State Tuition: Colorado passed Senate Bill 18-087 which provides individuals admitted to the United States as refugees or who have a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and have settled in Colorado with access to in-state tuition. Any refugee or special immigrant admitted to the United States pursuant to these laws is eligible for classification as an in-state student immediately upon settlement in Colorado. The bill defines “settle” as having made their home in Colorado and presently intending to reside permanently in the state. 

State Financial Aid

Colorado House Bill (H.B.) 19-1196, signed into law on May 13, 2019, extends state financial aid to undocumented students, including DACA recipients, who are eligible for in-state tuition under Colorado’s Senate Bill (S.B.) 13-033.

Undocumented students, including DACA recipients, may also be eligible for the College Opportunity Fund (COF) and for institutional or other financial aid. COF is a trust fund created by the Colorado Legislature under Title 23 that provides a tuition stipend to undergraduate students. Eligibility requirements for the COF are different based on the college attended.

Colorado extends financial aid to both public and private postsecondary institutions.

Additional Financial Aid

TheDream.US is a national organization that offers scholarships to students with or without DACA or TPS attending eligible postsecondary institutions across the country. In Colorado, the following institutions are TheDream.US Partner Colleges:

  • Community College of Denver (Public)
  • Metropolitan State University of Denver (Public)
  • Colorado State University – Pueblo (Public)
  • University of Colorado Denver (Public)
Professional & Occupational Licensure

Colorado allows individuals to obtain professional and occupational licensure regardless of their immigration status.

Colorado S.B 21-077, signed into law on May 27, 2021, expands access to professional and occupational licensure to the state’s undocumented residents, including for occupations like teaching, nursing, and childcare. The bill eliminates an existing requirement that the state’s Department of Education and each division, board, or agency of the Department of Regulatory Agencies verify the lawful presence of each applicant before issuing or renewing a professional license. It also specifies that lawful presence is not required of an applicant for any professional license, certificate, or registration.

Colorado Professional Licensure Requirements & Business Registration

To learn more about professional/occupational licensure requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource guide here

To learn more about state business and tax registration requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource guide here. 

The information in these guides is based on outreach to the state’s specific licensing boards and each state’s business and tax agencies from April to July 2023 and is subject to change. To get up to date information on requirements, individuals should verify with the appropriate state agency. 

Driver Licenses

Undocumented immigrants living in Colorado are eligible to obtain a driver license. Senate Bill (S.B.) 13-251, signed into law on June 5, 2013, provides the state’s undocumented residents access to a noncitizen driver’s license if they meet certain requirements. The licenses include text stating “not valid for federal identification, voting, or public benefits purposes.”

Narratives

The following narratives highlight stories of immigrant, refugee, and international students, alumni, and scholars, including in their own words or as shared publicly.

  • Narrative

    Student Narrative: Danna Gonzalez

    Danna Gonzalez is a social worker in Colorado which has allowed her to provide families with support and skills to keep children safe and well cared for.

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Effective Practices and State Resources

Spotlight on effective practices and policy, research, or community-based state resources.

  • Effective Practice

    The Ready for American Hospitality Program

    The RAH program is a collaboration between the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) African Community Center (ACC) and the University of Denver's (DU) Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, which serves as a service-learning program for refugee, asylee, and migrant populations alongside their undergraduate counterparts of the Human Capital course, engaging in cultural exchange and Hospitality training that equips the students to be stronger candidates for the US hospitality workforce, and aiding the refugee population in retaining meaningful employment.

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  • Research

    Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education (Updated August 2023)

    The report’s findings reveal the growing proportion of first and second generation immigrant students in postsecondary education, the diversity of these students, and their importance for future U.S. labor growth.

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  • Research

    Undocumented Students in Higher Education

    The new estimates show there are more than 408, 000 undocumented students enrolled in postsecondary education, representing about 1.9 percent of all postsecondary students. This estimate represents a decrease of 4.2 percent from 2019, when 427,000 undocumented students were enrolled.

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