Alessandra Bazo Vienrich, Worcester State University – Place Matters: Access to College for Undocumented Students

On Worcester State University Week:  Access to college is a big step for undocumented students.

Alessandra Bazo Vienrich, explores the problems they face in this quest.

Alessandra Bazo Vienrich is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Worcester State University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where in 2020 she was awarded the James E. Blackwell Prize for rigorous research and scholarship. In her current research projects she focuses on undocumented youth-turned-young-adults and how institutions, policies, and practices in their communities impact their experiences with belonging and exclusion as they navigate the high school to college pipeline. Her book project, Conditioned to DREAM: Undocumented Immigrants’ Road to Inclusion Through Education, traces the educational experiences of Latinx undocumented college students ages 18-30 during the years following the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Place Matters: Access to College for Undocumented Students


When I interviewed Mario, an undocumented student in North Carolina, in 2013 I asked him what he thought about the fact that the state does not offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. Eight years later, his answer still resonates with me because it captures the sentiment shared by most of the undocumented students I interviewed in North Carolina and Massachusetts, two states that along with 27 others, do not offer in-state tuition or financial aid to undocumented students. In the interview Mario said to me, “I know without a doubt that I deserve to be in a place where I can increase my potential to the point that I can use my abilities to do some type of good.” Like Mario, many other undocumented college students were frustrated by their inability to access college in these states as a result of the exorbitant costs of tuition and inability to receive state and federal financial aid.

In my research I focused on the approximately 454,000 undocumented students that each year go to college, and found that despite similarly restrictive tuition policy contexts for undocumented students in North Carolina and Massachusetts, the experiences of undocumented students, as well as their understandings of higher education in these two states, differed. I attribute this to a set of local and state level factors that determine undocumented students’ access to college, such as histories of migration, divergent policies and practices towards immigrants, and immigrant population makeup. I conclude that these factors decentralize the role of tuition policies at the state level and caution scholars and practitioners against generalizations about undocumented students’ educational experiences from state to state.