Financing hope: the impact of state and institutional financial aid on undocumented student persistence and success in Texas
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This study examined how financial aid impacts undocumented college students in Texas by evaluating their (1) year-to-year persistence and (2) degree attainment within six years. Texas is one of five states that provide its undocumented residents both in-state tuition and financial aid. Its policy is over a decade old, making it a prime topic of study. While financial aid has been well established as a key component to student success outcomes, such as persistence and degree attainment, the impact of financial aid on undocumented college students remained unexamined. This study used logistic regression analysis to test a composite conceptual framework on public, student-level data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The conceptual framework includes three blocks of covariates: financial aid, demographic profile, and academic preparation. Undocumented students were identified from triangulated THECB data of tuition status, residency status, and ineligibility for federal aid that specifically identifies students who are “non-immigrant residents” who receive in-state resident tuition and state and institutional financial aid. The study found that while financial aid, especially gift, other, and work-study aid increased year-to-year persistence, it did not increase degree attainment within in six years for undocumented college students. This may be due to insufficient financial aid and/or personal costs of sacrifices and struggles endured by undocumented students. Recommendations for future study include a focus on community colleges, comparison studies with other states, research regarding the lived experiences of undocumented college students in relation to financial aid, and examination of the tipping points in financial aid and departure behavior. Policy and practice recommendations include passing comprehensive immigration reform, passing DREAMer legislation, codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, creating campus staff positions to support undocumented students, initiating graduation support for undocumented students, presenting training for campus faculty and staff regarding undocumented students, addressing unmet financial need, and providing financial aid and financial literacy counseling. This study is intended to address the gap in research and provide an analysis of data to inform public policy discourse.