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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 Tennessee279,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students12,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students38,000
International Students9,206

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 Education2,108
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education886
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 Education9,206
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$332.7 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State3,190
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants1,428

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 Tennessee372,236
Immigrant Share of Total Population5.3%
Undocumented Immigrants in State134,472
DACA-Eligible Residents in State10,679
Spending Power of DACA-Eligible Residents$212.9 million
DACA-Eligible Residents Federal Tax Contributions$26.1 million
DACA-Eligible Residents State and Local Tax Contributions$24.7 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 Immigrants12.1%
First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools9,914
Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential62%

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

    Restrictive: Policies actively bar access to in-state tuition or state financial aid for the state's undocumented students, including DACA recipients.

  • Professional & Occupational Licensure Workforce Entry & Eligibility

    Limited: Policies allow individuals with work authorization, such as DACA recipients, to obtain occupational licensure in one or more professions that require licensure.

  • Driver Licenses & Identification Mobility

    Restrictive: Policies do not provide the state's undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and state identification, but DACA recipients can still obtain a driver's license or state identification card.

Enacted Policies

Tennessee prohibits undocumented residents, including DACA recipients, from accessing in-state tuition. The state does not appear to have legislation that extends occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals, including DACA recipients.

Tennessee does not provide undocumented residents with access to state financial aid or driver licenses and state identification.

In-State Tuition

Tennessee effectively requires the state’s undocumented students, including DACA recipients, to pay out-of-state tuition.

The Tennessee Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act (EVEA), signed into law in 2012, requires students to verify their citizenship or lawful presence to access in-state tuition. Students who cannot verify U.S. citizenship or lawful presence are required to pay out-of-state tuition. Tennessee’s undocumented students, including DACA recipients, are not considered to satisfy the EVEA’s “lawful presence” requirement.

The Tennessee Board of Regents, the largest system of higher education in Tennessee, also notes that undocumented students living in the state cannot “establish domicile in Tennessee” to access in-state tuition.

Refugee In-State Tuition: Tennessee’s Eligibility Verifications for Entitlements Act (EVEA) requires all publicly funded entities to verify the immigration statuses of individuals over 18 before granting a state benefit, including in-state tuition benefits. Refugees are entitled to in-state tuition benefits upon satisfying residency requirements. 

State Financial Aid

Tennessee does not appear to have policies regarding access to state financial aid for undocumented students.

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 Tennessee, the following institution is a TheDream.US Partner College:

  • Christian Brothers University.

A number of postsecondary institutions in Tennessee also provide personal, academic, and financial support for undocumented students and DACA recipients.

Equal Chance for Education provides 4-year scholarships statewide at 15 partner colleges and universities for undocumented students in Tennessee.  Please see their website www.equalchanceforeducation.org for more information.

Professional & Occupational Licensure

Tennessee Senate Bill (S.B.) 2464/ House Bill (H.B.) 2309, effective on July 2, 2022, permits immigrants with a federally authorized work permit, including DACA recipients and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, to access professional and occupational licenses, so long as they meet other requirements for the licenses. The bill, known as the Workforce Expansion Bill, was signed by the governor on April 26, 2022.

Tennessee 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 in Tennessee do not have access to a driver license or state identification card.

DACA recipients in Tennessee are allowed to obtain a driver license or state identification card.

Effective Practices and State Resources

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

  • 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.

    Continue Reading
  • Research

    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.

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  • Research

    Report: Higher Education and Success for Undocumented Students Start with 9 Key Criteria

    Higher Education is the key to achieving social & economic mobility in the U.S. The Education Trust analyzed 9 criteria in the 15 states with the largest shares of undocumented college students to determine whether state policies are helping or hurting undocumented students’ ability to access & complete college.

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