Lessons From the Local Level: DACA's Implementation and Impact on Education and Training Success

by Margie McHugh; Sarah Hooker; Angelo Mathay

Jan 5, 2015
This report examines the ways in which local educational institutions, legal service providers, and immigrant youth advocates have responded to the first phase of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Based on extensive interviews with stakeholders in seven states -- California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Texas -- the report identifies initiatives undertaken by educational institutions and other community stakeholders to support DACA youth's education and training success, and examine the impact of deferred action on grantees' academic and career pursuits. It provides examples of promising practices, additional challenges, and key takeaways at the high school, postsecondary, and adult education levels, as well as an exploration of the nature and scope of DACA legal outreach initiatives.
  • Schools can serve as trusted sources of information on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) - though staff members do not always have the technical knowledge to play this role
  • Counselors serving unauthorized immigrants also need expertise in local, state and federal college access policies and scholarships available for this group.
  • Immigrant serving organizations can augment or complement schools' efforts by highlighting successful role models and community resources, and helping unauthorized students and families navigate both DACA and the college planning process.
  • Dropout prevention and recovery programs are important and sometimes underutilized strategies for supporting DACA youth with gaps in their education.
  • Dual enrollment programs and other acceleration strategies have the potential to make college more affordable for DACA youth, though academically challenging eligibility requirements may limit their reach.
  • The task facing educators is most challenging in states with more restrictive policies regarding college access for unauthorized immigrant youth.
  • In-state tuition laws have the potential to increase college-going and completion rates among DACA youth, but the terms of these policies vary substantially across states. Eligibility requirements may exclude students who have taken a nontraditional path to higher education, such as GED completers and older students.
  • Implementation challenges prevent supportive state policies from reaching their full potential.
  • Beyond in-state tuition, policies offering state financial aid, scholarships, loans and other cost-saving measures for DACA youth represent significant steps toward leveling the playing field. However, few states have adopted policies permitting access to a full range of financial assistance programs.
  • Private funders and some public institutions have created tailored scholarship programs for DACA youth; however, demand usually outstrips supply.
  • Well-structured advising and social services play a key role in helping DACA youth navigate college administrative systems, develop a sense of belonging on campus, and progress along a college and career trajectory.
  • Accelerated, content-based approaches to English remediation provide an important on-ramp to college-level work.
  • Municipal-level responses to DACA that bolster adult education services and connect these programs to immigration legal service providers and other community stakeholders have the potential to improve service navigation and access for lower-educated youth, and aid them in applying for DACA and advancing their education.
  • Spanish-language instruction has proven effective for many DACA youth with limited English proficiency - but such programs are in short supply, with federal funding restrictions limiting the provision of this high-demand services.
  • Strategies that aim to accelerate students' progress from adult education into college-level certificate and degree programs - including bridge programs and integrated education and skills training models - can offer a significant savings of time and money for DACA youth.
  • Career-focused programs provide an important alternative to traditional adult education courses and may have more success in engaging harder-to-reach members of the DACA population: those who are older and have significant gaps in their education. These programs can launch DACA grantees into higher-paying jobs.
  • Capacity constraints in the adult education system continue to impede the participation of lower-educated adults seeking to apply for DACA.
  • Collaboration and coordination across legal service and education programs is essential to leverage the strengths of existing service infrastructures in local communities; however, the effectiveness of such efforts is often undercut by a lack of navigation assistance for adult education and training programs, which is necessary to match the needs and goals of adult learners to local programs that can best serve them.
  • Legal service entities and lawyers need assistance providing referrals to education and training programs for DACA applicants, along with other system navigation supports, since in most cases it is unrealistic to expect that attorneys will be able to effectively advise clients on how best to meet their adult education and training needs.
  • Many schools and school districts would benefit from clearer guidance regarding the DACA programs and their ability to share pertinent information about its provisions without running afoul of student privacy regulations. Trusted intermediaries can provide quality controls that education institutions may require as a condition of allowing access to school sites.
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