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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 28% 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 Colorado361,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students20,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students39,000
International Students11,631

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 427,000 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 Undocumented1.8%
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year1,000

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

International students comprise only 5.5 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 Education11,631
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$428.8 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State5,141
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 Colorado537,334
Immigrant Share of Total Population9.3%
Undocumented Immigrants in State145,690
DACA-Eligible Residents in State22,055
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 Immigrants13%
Share of Nurses Who Are First-Generation Immigrants7%
Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants15.8%
First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools11,873

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 (NAE) and international students (NAFSA).

State Policies

Evaluating Access for Undocumented 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.

  • 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.

Colorado Senate Bill 18-087, signed into law on April 12, 2018, 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. The bill defines “settle” as having made their home in Colorado and presently intend 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.

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.
Professional & Occupational Licensure

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

Colorado bill S.B 21-077 was signed into law on May 27, 2021. S.B 21-077 is legislation that expands access to professional and occupational licensure to the state’s undocumented residents.

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.”

Proposed Policies

Colorado is considering legislation that would expand access to professional and occupational licensure to the state’s undocumented residents.

Professional & Occupational Licensure

Colorado is considering legislation to expand access to professional and occupational licensure to individuals regardless of their immigration status. Colorado Senate Bill (S.B.) 21-077, passed by the state legislature and sent to Governor Polis (D-CO) on May 17, 2021, would allow individuals – regardless of immigration status – to access professional licenses, including 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.

Effective Practices and State Resources

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

  • Research

    Undocumented Students in Higher Education (Updated March 2021)

    More than 427,000 undocumented students in the U.S. are enrolled in higher education, including 181,000 DACA-eligible individuals.

    Continue Reading
  • Effective Practice

    Higher Ed Guide to Tuition, Financial Aid, & Other Funding Opportunities for Undocumented Students

    An overview of in-state tuition, state aid, and other funding opportunities for undocumented students.

    Continue Reading