This state page integrates student data, economic contributions, state policies, effective practices, and other resources to learn about and better support the state’s undocumented, other immigrant, and international students in higher education.
We classify Colorado as a Comprehensive Access state in terms of inclusive in-state tuition and state financial aid policies for undocumented students. The Portal tracks state policies for undocumented students on in-state tuition, state financial aid, professional and occupational licensure, and driver licenses.
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 Colorado||361,000|
|First-Generation Immigrant Students||20,000|
|Second-Generation Immigrant Students||39,000|
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.
|Share of All Students in Higher Education Who Are Undocumented||1.8%|
|Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year||1,000|
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 Education||9,355|
|Economic Contributions of International Students in the State||$322 million|
|Jobs Supported by International Students in the State||3,456|
|Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants||1,734|
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 Colorado||537,334|
|Immigrant Share of Total Population||9.3%|
|Undocumented Immigrants in State||145,690|
|DACA-Eligible Residents in State||22,055|
|Spending Power of DACA-Eligible Residents||$391.9 million|
|DACA-Eligible Residents Federal Tax Contributions||$61.2 million|
|DACA-Eligible Residents State and Local Tax Contributions||$43.9 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 Immigrants||13.1%|
|Share of Nurses Who Are First-Generation Immigrants||7%|
|Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants||15.8%|
|First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools||11,873|
|Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential||39%|
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).
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.
Colorado has statewide legislation that extends occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals, including DACA recipients.
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:
- Must have attended a public or private high school in Colorado for at least three years immediately preceding graduation;
- 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,
- 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.
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 DACA and undocumented students attending eligible postsecondary institutions across the country. In Colorado, the following institutions are TheDream.US Partner Colleges:
- Community College of Denver; and,
- Metropolitan State University of Denver.
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 the licensure & business registration requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource Guide. The information in the guide is based on outreach to the state’s specific licensing boards from April to July 2023 and is subject to change. To get up to date information on licensure application requirements, individuals should verify this information with the licensing board.
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.”
The following narratives highlight stories of immigrant, refugee, and international students, alumni, and scholars, including in their own words or as shared publicly.
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.Continue Reading
Effective Practices and State Resources
Spotlight on effective practices and policy, research, or community-based state resources.
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.Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
Report: The Post-DACA Generation is Here
A new report finds that an estimated 120,000 undocumented students will graduate from high school in 2023, with most of them not eligible for DACA. The new FWD.us report, published in May 2023, The Post-DACA Generation is Here, explains how DACA’s unavailability impacts undocumented youth in the U.S.Continue Reading