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Title: The Impact of Tuition Increases on Undocumented College Students’ Schooling Decisions 


Authors and Affiliations: 

Dylan Conger 

The George Washington University 

Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration 

805 21st Street NW, MPA 60 1G 

Washington, DC 20052 

202-994-1456 

dconger@gwu.edu 


This paper examines the effect of a short-lived increase in tuition rates on undocumented college 
students’ schooling decisions. In the spring of 2002, the City University of New York (CUNY) 
reversed its policy of charging in-state tuition rates to undocumented college students who could 
demonstrate that they migrated to New York at a relatively young age. The policy was in place 
for exactly one semester; by fall 2002, the New York legislature restored the in-state tuition 
policy for eligible undocumented youth. I use this unique policy context to examine the impact 
of tuition increases on undocumented students’ schooling choices, including whether to remain 
enrolled or to disenroll for a semester (“stopout”) and whether to enroll part-time instead of full- 
time. The data are provided by CUNY and the empirical models estimate the difference between 
documented and undocumented students in fall 2002 relative to earlier and later semesters. The 
results suggest that the removal of in-state tuition caused undocumented students in the 
bachelor’s degree programs to stopout of school and shift from full-time to part-time enrollment. 
The findings provide strong evidence that college costs can have a large impact on the collegiate 
outcomes of undocumented students who have already chosen to attend college and, perhaps 
more generally, the outcomes of price sensitive college students, including those from low- 
income backgrounds. 


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Abstract Body 


Background / Context: 

Undocumented college students lie at the intersection of two major policy debates in the United 
States: how to refonn the immigration system and what to do about the growing cost of obtaining 
a college diploma. In June of 2012, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action 
for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields eligible undocumented immigrant youth from 
deportation and provides them with temporary work authorization. An estimated 1.7 million 
undocumented youth who migrated to the U.S. with their parents before they were 16 years old 
are considered eligible for the Deferred Action program (Passel and Lopez 2012). Congress is 
also considering immigration refonn once again, with some proposals including elements of the 
previously-rejected Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The 
DREAM-like proposals would not only prevent deportation but also provide eligible youth with 
a pathway to pennanent residency status and access to federal benefits, such as aid for college. 

In the meantime, over a dozen states have passed legislation to extend in-state tuition benefits to 
eligible undocumented college students and some state governments have debated state-level 
DREAM Acts, which would grant students’ access to other public and private sources of college 
aid. The in-state tuition subsidy represents a nontrivial share of the current estimate of obtaining 
a four-year degree at a public institution; at most public four-year institutions, the out-of-state 
cost is more than twice the in-state cost (Hemelt and Marcotte, 2011). 

A consensus is emerging on the substantial impact of tuition subsidies on the post-secondary 
schooling decisions of the nation’s youth. A recent review by Deming and Dynarski (2010) 
points to significant increases in college-going among students whose sticker price dropped due 
to exogenous sources of aid, such as the introduction of a state merit-based aid program. And 
two of the three prior studies on the effect of state-level policies that provide in-state tuition 
benefits to eligible undocumented students find positive effects on Mexican students’ college- 
going (Kaushal, 2009; Flores, 2010), while a third study finds positive estimates only for older 
Mexican males (Chin and Juhn, 2011). 

There are two areas that remain relatively under-explored. The first is the degree to which 
tuition shocks impact the schooling decisions of inframarginal students — that is, students who 
have already made the decision to enroll in college and are no longer on the enrollment margin. 
Little is known, for example, about the effect of tuition changes on inframarginal students’ 
choices to take a leave from school (sometimes referred to as “stopping out”) or to attend school 
part-time as opposed to full-time. Exceptions include work by Angrist et al. (2011); Bettinger 
(2004); DesJardins et al. (2002); and Dynarksi (2008). The second concerns how tuition shocks 
affect the decisions of inframarginal students who are undocumented. Undocumented students 
represent a somewhat unusual subset of the college student population given the many barriers 
they face to normal young adult pursuits; chief among these barriers is a severely restricted labor 
market. Undocumented college students are also disproportionately from low-income families, 
first generation college students, and minorities, and likely more price sensitive than the average 
college student (Gonzales 2011; Perez 2009). To my knowledge, there are no studies on the 
effect of college costs on the schooling decisions of undocumented college students. 


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Purpose / Objective / Research Question / Focus of Study: 

This paper directly informs these under-researched topics by identifying the impact of a tuition 
increase at a major urban university system on the enrollment decisions of inframarginal 
undocumented college students. For only one semester, the City University of New York 
(CUNY) reversed its long-standing policy of charging in-state tuition rates to undocumented 
youth who graduated from a New York high school. This one-semester tuition increase for 
undocumented students offers a natural experiment for examining the effect of tuition on 
undocumented students' enrollment choices, including their decision to remain enrolled (or 
stopout) and their choice of full- or part-time enrollment. Correspondingly, the estimation 
strategy compares the difference between undocumented and documented students college 
choices in the tuition shock semester to the differences between these two groups in choices 
made in proximate semesters. 

Setting: 

The data for this study are obtained from CUNY, which educates more than 480,000 students in 
over 20 public colleges and institutions in New York City. 

Population / Participants / Subjects: 

The analytic sample consists of students who entered a bachelors degree program at one of the 
CUNY colleges between Fall 1999 and Spring 2001 (N=52,694). These students are then 
observed for the five semesters that encompass the tuition shock, including Spring 2001 through 
Spring 2003 (with Spring 2002 at the center of the panel). The data contain information on 
students’ schooling choices and outcomes in each semester, including whether they choose to 
enroll and the number of courses they pursue conditional on enrollment. Of key interest, the data 
also record students’ citizenship or immigration status in the US for the purpose of tuition 
determination. Upon enrollment, students are asked to identify themselves as one of the 
following: US citizen, permanent resident, student visa holder, temporary visa holder, asylum or 
refugee, or expired visa holder, or undocumented. Students who report that they are US citizens 
are required to submit documentation and those who either report that they are undocumented or 
who fail to provide valid documentation (e.g., current or expired visa, temporary authorizations 
to live and work in the US) are recorded as undocumented. 

Intervention / Program / Practice: 

In the Fall of 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/1 1, officials at CUNY announced that 
they would be charging out-of-state tuition rates to all immigrant students. This policy reversed 
the university's previous practice of charging in-state rates to undocumented immigrant students 
who could demonstrate that they lived in New York or attended a New York State high school 
for at least one year prior to enrollment. The new policy was in place for exactly one semester 
(spring of 2002) and was subsequently overturned by the New York State legislature, which 
passed a law in the summer of 2002 that reinstated in-state tuition benefits for eligible 
undocumented students. In the spring of 2002, the tuition rates for previously-eligible 
undocumented students at 4-year colleges more than doubled (from $133 to $283 per credit). 


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With a full-course load of 12 credits, this represented a tuition increase of $ 1 800 in the spring of 

2002 . 

Research Design: 

The estimation approach compares the difference between undocumented and documented 
students enrollment choices in the tuition shock semester to the differences between these two 
groups in choices made in proximate semesters. The basic model is as follows: 

(1) Ytt = To + /iS(t) + y 2 S(t) x U it + y 3 A) + e it 

where Y it is one of several schooling choices for student i in semester t; the vector S(t) contains 
fixed effects for each of the five semesters observed; t/; is set to one if the student is 
undocumented (where all documented immigrants as well as US citizens comprise the reference 
group); Xi is a vector of covariates, which includes time invariant pre-collegiate attributes (e.g., 
race/ethnicity, gender), major, and college fixed effects; and e it is a random error component. 
The primary estimates of interest are found in f 2 , which provide the difference between 
documented and undocumented students in the schooling outcomes in each semester. The policy 
change occurred in the middle of the five semesters observed and the treatment effect if 
detennined by comparing the estimate in that semester to the estimates in proximate semesters. 
The results are also tested for sensitivity to the choice of comparison group (e.g., only in-state 
tuition eligible documented students), method for addressing correlated error terms, estimation 
strategy (OLS versus Probit), sample selection due to within-panel graduation, as well as 
heterogeneity in effects (e.g., by race, gender, and institution). 

Data Collection and Analysis: 

All administrative data have been obtained from the CUNY system. 

Findings / Results: 

Preliminary results, which are partially illustrated in the attached figures, reveal a large decrease 
in the enrollment (overall enrollment and full-time enrollment) of undocumented students in the 
bachelor’s degree program as a result of the tuition increase. Figure 1, for example, shows the 
raw enrollment rates of students in the bachelor’s degree programs by their immigration status 
(documented versus undocumented) and semester. The dashed line shows the enrollment rate 
among documented students and the solid line shows the enrollment rate among undocumented 
students, with the vertical line marking the spring of 2002, when the tuition rates doubled for 
undocumented students. (As a reminder, the sample includes students who had enrolled in a 
previous semester and who had not yet graduated from the system; thus, those who are not 
enrolled in any given semester are either stopouts or dropouts). Figure 1 shows that 
undocumented students are enrolled at higher rates than their documented peers in all semesters 
except spring 2002, when their enrollment drops. Regression-adjusted estimates suggest that 
undocumented students are 4 percentage-points more likely to be enrolled than observationally- 
equivalent documented students in fall 2001 and fall 2002, and approximately 2 percentage 
points less likely to be enrolled in spring 2002 (not shown in Figure). Interestingly, though the 


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increase in tuition induced students to stopout, the return of the subsidy in the next semester, 
induced them back into school, indicating that the short-term tuition shock did not cause students 
to permanently drop out of school. Similar findings are observed for full- versus part-time 
enrollment, with undocumented students showing marked decreases in full-time enrollment in 
the semester in which their costs increased (see Figure 2). 

Conclusions: 

Over 40 percent of students who enroll in a four-year college fail to obtain their degrees within 
six years and the rates are even higher for students from low-income families (Radford et ah, 
2010). This paper provides evidence that the tuition supports provided to undocumented students 
during their college careers significantly increase their retention and increase their likelihood of 
taking a full courseload. Thus, even if tuition subsidies (and, correspondingly, federal and state 
grants) have no impact on undocumented students’ college enrollment, such supports can impact 
the time that it takes students to obtain their degrees. 

A key remaining question is the extent to which undocumented students benefit from their 
college degrees. Research on immigrant students generally often finds that they are a positively- 
selected group who often outperform native-born students from similar socio-demographic 
profiles (e.g, Kao and Tienda 1995; Schwartz and Stiefel 2006). Consistent with this observation, 
a policy brief by Conger and Chellman (2013) finds that undocumented students in the CUNY 
system tend to resemble other immigrant groups (namely permanent residents and visa holders) 
on academics, all of whom earn higher GPAs and accumulate more credits than US citizens. 
Based on these accounts, it is possible that undocumented youth represent a relatively high 
ability group, such that the returns to a college degree could be large if barriers to employment 
were removed. Again, this question deserves further inquiry in order to fully evaluate the net 
benefits of reforms aimed at increasing the college-going and completion rates of undocumented 
youth. 

The natural experiment examined in this study, combined with the unique data that tracks 
immigration status, provides for a relatively strong causal design. At the same time, the extent to 
which these results can be generalized beyond New York City, a city with a longstanding history 
of immigration, a diverse immigrant population, and an immigrant-supportive climate, is a 
question that should be further explored with applications in other areas. 


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Appendices 


Appendix A. References 

Angrist, Joshua, Daniel Lang, and Philip Oreopoulos. (2009). “Incentives and Services for College 
Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Trial.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1:1, 
136-163. 

Bettinger, Eric. (2004). “How Financial Aid Affects Persistence.” Chapter 6 in College Choices: the 
Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay for It. Caroline M. Hoxby (editor). University 
of Chicago Press. 

Chin, Aimee and Juhn, Chinhui. (2011). “Does Reducing College Costs Improve Educational Outcomes 
for Undocumented Immigrants? Evidence from State Laws Permitting Undocumented Immigrants to Pay 
In-State tuition at State Colleges and Universities.” Chapter 4 (pages 63-94) in Latinos and the Economy: 
Integration and Impact in Schools, Labor Markets, and Beyond. David L. Leal, and Stephen J. Trejo 
(editors). Springer Press. 

Conger, Dylan and Colin Chellman (2013). “Undocumented College Students in the United States: In- 
State Tuition Not Enough to Ensure Four-Year Degree Completion.” Education Finance and Policy 8(3), 
364-377, 2013. 

Deming, David and Susan Dynarski. (2010). “Into College, Out of Poverty? Policies to Increase the 
Postsecondary Attainment of the Poor,” in Phil Levine and David Zimmerman, eds. Targeting 
Investments in Children: Fighting Poverty When Resources are Limited. 

DesJardins, S.L., D.A. Ahlburg, and B.P. McCall. (2002). “Simulating the Longitudinal Effects of 
Changes in Financial Aid on Student Departure from College.” The Journal of Human Resources 37(3): 
653-679. 

Dynarksi, Susan. (2008). “Building the Stock of College-Educated Labor.” Journal of Human Resources 
43(3): 576-610. 

Flores, Stella M. (2010). "State Dream Acts The Effect of In-State Resident Tuition Policies and 
Undocumented Latino Students." The Review of Higher Education 33(2), 239-283. 

Gonzales, Roberto G. (2011). “Learning to be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts 
in the Transition to Adulthood.” American Sociological Review 76(4): 602-619. 

Hemelt, Steven W. and David E. Marcotte. (2011). “The Impact of Tuition Increases on Enrollment at 
Public Colleges and Universities.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 33(4): 435-457. 

Kao, Grace, and Tienda, Marta. (1995). "Optimism and Achievement: The Educational Performance of 
Immigrant Youth." Social Science Quarterly 76(1), 1-19. 

Kaushal, Neeraj. (2008). "In-state Tuition for the Undocumented: Education Effects on Mexican Young 
Adults." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 27(4), 771-792. 

Passed, Jeffrey S. and Mark Hugo Lopez. (2012). Up to 1.7 Million Unauthorized Immigrant Youth May 
Benefit from New Deportation Rules. Pew Hispanic Center. 


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Perez, William. (2009). We ARE Americans: Untold Stories of Undocumented Students in Pursuit of the 
American Dream. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA. 

Radford, A.W., Berkner, L., Wheeless, S.C., and Shepherd, B. (2010. Persistence and Attainment of 
2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years (NCES 2011-151). U.S. Department of 
Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. 

Schwartz, Amy Ellen, and Stiefel, Leanna. (2006). “Is There a Nativity Gap? Achievement of New York 
City Elementary and Middle School Immigrant Students.” Education Finance and Policy 1, 17-49. 


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Appendix B. Tables and Figures 

Figure 1 : Enrollment by Semester and Immigrant Status, Bachelors Degree Students 



Figure 2: Full-time Enrollment by Semester and Immigrant Status, Bachelors Degree 
Students 



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