Undocumented Student Participation in Education Abroad: An Institutional Analysis

  • Paige E. Butler Middlebury Institute of International Studies
  • Meggan Madden George Washington University
  • Nickie Smith George Washington University
Keywords: Institutional practices, Undocumented students, Study abroad, Education abroad, California, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals


This research explores institutional practices supporting undocumented student participation in U.S. education abroad at a California public research university. This institution successfully enrolled more than 40 undocumented students studying abroad between 2013 and 2016. Four university staff members, an immigration attorney, and eight undocumented students who successfully studied abroad were interviewed. During this time, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was in effect through federal Executive Order, providing some protections for certain eligible youth immigrants living without current legal status in the U.S.  DACA-approved students were eligible to formally access education abroad through a federal U.S. program known as Advance Parole from late 2012 through fall 2017, when the order was rescinded. All student participants studied abroad and interviews were conducted prior to the Fall 2017 Presidential Rescission of DACA and cessation of Advance Parole study abroad opportunities for DACA students. Findings demonstrate that undocumented students navigate study abroad with specific considerations for federal, state, and institutional policies, which may contradict or misalign with institutional practices and methods traditionally utilized to support study abroad students, thus further marginalizing this underrepresented population of students.  This research highlights promising practices supporting undocumented students in education abroad and the findings from these interviews inform international educators and allies how to better support underrepresented students on and off-campus, and suggests considerations for other marginalized student populations interested in education abroad.


Download data is not yet available.


American Immigration Council, & Catholic Legal Immigration Network. (2013).

Advance parole for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) recipients. [Practice Advisory]. Retrieved from: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/practice_advisory/advance_parole_for_daca_recipients.pdf

American Immigration Council, National Immigration Project, & American Immigration Lawyers Association. (2015). Deferred action for childhood arrivals. [Practice Advisory]. Retrieved from: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/practice_advisory/deferred-action-childhood-arrivals

Arnett, A. (2015). Diversifying Higher Ed Still a Challenge. Diverse Issues in Education. Fairfax, VA: Cox, Matthews and Associates, Inc. Retrieved from: http://diverseeducation.com/article/78225/

Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Barnhardt, C., Ramos, M., & Reyes, K. (2013). Equity and inclusion in practice: Administrative
responsibility for fostering undocumented students’ learning. About Campus, 18(2), 20-26.

Becker, G. S. (1993). Human capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis, with special reference to education (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory of research for the sociology of education (pp. 46–58). New York: Greenwood.

Bourdieu, P., Passerson, J. (1977). Reproduction in education, society, and culture (R. Nice, Trans.). London: Sage Publications.

Brux, J. M., & Fry, B. (2010). Multicultural students in study abroad: Their interests, their issues, and their constraints. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(5), 508-527.

Chen, A. C., & Rhoads, R. A. (2016). Undocumented student allies and transformative resistance: An ethnographic case study. The Review of Higher Education, 39(4), 515-542. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2016.0033

Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, S95-S120.

Diaz-Strong, D., Gomez, C., Luna-Duarte M. E., & Meiners, E. R. (2011). Purged: Undocumented students, financial aid, and access to higher education. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 10(2), 107-119.

Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC). (2012). Fact sheet: An overview of college-bound undocumented students. Retrieved from: http://www.e4fc.org/images/Fact_Sheet.pdf

Enriquez, L. E. (2011). “Because we feel the pressure and we also feel the support”: Examining
the educational success of undocumented immigrant Latino/a students. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 476-499.

Fair Punishment Project, Immigration Defense Project, & Immigrant Legal Resource Center. (2017). The promise of sanctuary cities and the need for criminal justice reforms in an era of mass deportation. [Collaborative Report]. Retrieved from: https://www.ilrc.org/sites/default/files/resources/fpp-sanctuary-cities-report-final.pdf
Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). (2015). Travel for DACA Applicants (Advance Parole). [Practice Advisory]. Retrieved from https://www.ilrc.org/sites/default/files/documents/advance_parole_guide.pdf.

Immigrant Legal Resource Center, & United We Dream. (2016). DACA renewal and advance parole. [Practice Advisory]. Retrieved from: https://www.ilrc.org/daca-renewal-and-advance-parole-practice-advisory-english-spanish

Institute of International Education. (2016). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2004/05-2014/15." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors

McClure, K. R., Szelenyi, K., Niehaus, E., Anderson, A. A., & Reed, J. (2010). “We just don’t have the possibility yet”: U.S. Latino/a narratives on study abroad. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 47(3), 367-386. DOI: 10.2202/1949-6605.6056

Jackson, J. & O’Callaghan, E.M. (2009). Ethnic and Racial Administrative Diversity: Understanding Work Life Realities and Experiences in Higher Education. ASHE Higher Education Report, v35 (3). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

OECD. (2016), Education at a glance 2016: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2016-en

Paulsen, M. B. (2001). The economics of human capital and investment in higher education. In M. B. Paulsen & J. C. Smart (Eds.), The finance of higher education: Theory, research, policy, and practice (pp. 55-94). New York: Agathon Press.

Paulsen, M. B., & St. John, E. P. (2002). Social class and college costs: Examining the financial nexus between college choice and persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, 73(2), 189–239.

Paulsen, M. B., & Toutkoushian, R. K. (2008). Economic models and policy analysis in higher education: A diagrammatic exposition. Higher Education, 1-48.

Perez, W., Cortes, R. D., Ramos, K., & Coronado, H. (2010). Cursed and blessed: examining the socioemotional and academic experiences of undocumented latina and latino college students. New Directions for Student Services, 131, 35-51.

Perez, W., & Cortes, R. (2011). Undocumented Latino College Students: Their Socioemotional and Academic Experiences. Dallas, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

Pérez, Z.J. (2014). Removing barriers to higher education for undocumented students. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/reports/2014/12/05/101366/removing-barriers-to-higher-education-for-undocumented-students/

Perna, L. W. (2006). Studying college access and choice: A proposed conceptual model. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Volume XXI (pp.99-157). Dordecht: Springer.

Perna, L. W., & Titus, M. A. (2005). The relationship between parental involvement as social capital and college enrollment: An examination of racial/ethnic group differences. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(5), 485-518.

Portes, A. (1998). Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual review of sociology, 24(1), 1-24.

Salisbury, M. H., Paulsen, M. B., & Pascarella, E. T. (2011). Why do all the study abroad students look alike? Applying an integrated student choice model to explore differences in the factors that influence white and minority students’ intent to study abroad. Research in Higher Education, 52, 123-150.

Salisbury, M. H., Umbach, P. D., Paulsen, M. B., & Pascarella, E. T. (2009). Going global: Understanding the choice process of the intent to study abroad. Research in Higher Education, 50, 119-143.

Sanchez, R. E. C., & So, M. L. (2015). UC Berkeley's undocumented student program: Holistic strategies for undocumented student equitable success across higher education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(3), 464-477.

Simon, J., & Ainsworth, J. W. (2012). Race and socioeconomic status differences in study abroad participation: The role of habitus, social networks, and cultural capital. ISRN Education, 2012, 1-21. http://dx.doi.org/10.5402/2012/413896

Southern, K. G. (2016). Institutionalizing support services for undocumented students at four-year colleges and universities. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(3),

St. John, E. P., & Asker, E. H. (2001). The role of finances in student choice: A review of theory and research. In M. B. Paulsen & J. C. Smart (Eds.), The finance of higher education: Theory, research, policy, & practice (pp. 419–438). New York: Agathon Press.

Sullivan, E. T. (2004). The Importance of a Diversity Faculty. Symposium: Recruiting, Retaining and Advancing Faculty of Color. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from: http://academic.umn.edu/provost/reports/pdfs/nov19ets.pdf

Sweeney, K. (2013). Inclusive excellence and underrepresentation of students of color in study abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 23, 1-21. Retrieved from: https://frontiersjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/SWEENEY-FrontiersXXIII-InclusiveExcellenceandUnderrepresentationofStudentsofColorinStudyAbroad.pdf

Sweeney, K. L., (2014). Race matters: An examination of the study abroad experiences of African American undergraduates (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Digital Commons @ DU: http://digitalcommons.du.edu/etd/635

Twombly, S., Salisbury, M. H., Tumanut, S. D., Klute, P. (2012). Study Abroad in a New Global Century: Renewing the Promise, Refining the Purpose. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS). (2014). How do I request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA)? Retrieved from: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Humanitarian/Deferred%20Action%20for%20Childhood%20Arrivals/daca_hdi.pdf

USCIS. (2015). Consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals process: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-process/frequently-asked-questions#travel

USCIS (2016). Instructions for Application for Travel Document. Retrieved from: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-131instr.pdf

USCIS (2017a). Data Set: All USCIS Application and Petition Form Types: All Form Types Performance Data (Fiscal Year 2017, 2nd Qtr) Retrieved from: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Reports%20and%20Studies/Immigration%20Forms%20Data/All%20Form%20Types/Quarterly_All_Forms_FY17Q2_Final.pdf

USCIS (2017b). Data Set: Form I-821D Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Process (Through Fiscal Year 2017, 2nd Qtr) Retrieved from: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Reports%20and%20Studies/Immigration%20Forms%20Data/All%20Form%20Types/DACA/daca_performancedata_fy2017_qtr2.pdf

Willis, T. Y. (2015). “And still we rise…”: Microaggressions and intersectionality in the study abroad experiences of black women. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26, 209-230. Retrieved from: https://frontiersjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/WILLIS-FrontiersXXVI-StillWeRise.pdf

Yin, R. (2003). Case Study Research: Design and Methods 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
How to Cite
Butler, P. E., Madden, M., & Smith, N. (2018). Undocumented Student Participation in Education Abroad: An Institutional Analysis. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 30(2), 1-31. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v30i2.409