Voices and Viewpoints

Is Your Institution ‘Sharing the Dream’?

by Dr. Marci Rockey / May 27, 2021

Hundreds of professionals from multiple states recently gathered virtually to attend the seventh annual Sharing the Dream conference hosted by the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC).

This year’s event had no registration fee and brought together individuals across educational sectors and community organizations to advance support for undocumented students entering postsecondary education. My interest in the conference itself stems from years of supporting community colleges in the state of Illinois in various capacities. As much of my current work focuses on advancing racial equity in career and technical education (CTE) programs in my home state, I find that institutions aren’t talking enough (or at all) about supporting this specific subpopulation of students.

The state of Illinois has the fifth largest number of undocumented students in higher education at 21,000, with 12,000 identified as eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (Feldblum et al., 2020).

In my first breakout session, attorney Rocio Becerril (2021) provided an overview of immigration laws, noting the negative impact of policies implemented under the Trump administration that continue to change under the Biden administration. Critically important to postsecondary education, the Biden administration has fully reinstated the DACA program, and the state of Illinois’ 2019 Rise Act made state funding for higher education available to undocumented and DACA students, as these students remain ineligible for federal financial aid (Becerril, 2021).

While it’s important to note that undocumented students are racially and ethnically diverse, national data demonstrates the disproportionate impact on Latinx students that comprise 65% of DACA-eligible students and 46% of undocumented students in higher education (Feldblum et al., 2020). Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students make up the next largest group of undocumented students as 17% of DACA-eligible students and 25% of undocumented students in higher education (Feldblum et al., 2020). Eighty-two percent of undocumented students are enrolled in public two- and four-year institutions with community colleges being a primary entry point (Feldblum et al., 2020). The role of community colleges in taking action to alleviate barriers for undocumented students is an integral step toward advancing racial equity in Illinois and across the United States.

In another breakout session, researchers shared their findings from interviews with 35 DACA recipients that identified as Latinx and highlighted how both secondary and postsecondary institutions can better support this population (Albarracin, Buchanan, & Olague-Jamaica, 2021). Seventy percent of students interviewed described their high school counselors as not helpful when it came to providing support for pursuing higher education (Albarracin et al., 2021). Action steps toward better serving undocumented students included:

  • Incorporating information for DACA and undocumented students in college information sessions;
  • Designating a bilingual (English/Spanish) immigration resource advocate at secondary and postsecondary institutions;
  • Connecting students to local, relevant community-based organizations;
  • Using inclusive language and providing training to all employees;
  • Encouraging and supporting students’ aspirations for postsecondary education despite the challenges; and
  • Understanding licensing requirements associated with careers that may serve as barriers for undocumented students (Albarracin et al., 2021).

The conference concluded with a panel of students enrolled at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. The group members shared their experiences as undocumented students or DACA recipients. Their experiences and suggestions echoed those presented in the previous session. In particular, students noted the importance of educational actors moving from simply answering questions in terms of a “yes” or “no” to becoming advocates for change to alleviate identified barriers within their institutions and beyond. While students noted the importance of training for all faculty and staff on supporting undocumented students and understanding DACA, this alone doesn’t move the needle on closing equity gaps and broadening opportunity in education and employment.

Throughout the day, it was highlighted that one thing institutions do have control over is prioritizing private support and access to scholarships within their foundation offices and broader communities. Given the limitations of financial aid for these students, this is a critical step to providing support.

As I reflect on our work at OCCRL to support Illinois community colleges in advancing racial equity, my learning reinforced the importance of partnerships. These are central to the Pathways to Results model and the Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment process that requires engaging with stakeholders to commit to action steps toward closing equity gaps. It is also relevant to what we have learned in the Program Review Illinois project to advance data-driven and equity-centered program review processes that ensure the alignment of college programs of study with district needs. As institutions are being called upon to take action to close racial equity gaps, it is critically important that they explore issues associated with being an undocumented student and take action to partner with secondary education, community organizations, and workforce representatives to provide the necessary supports that broaden opportunity and socioeconomic mobility. They can start by accessing the tremendous resources from the conference available here.



Albarracin, J., Buchanan, R., & Olague-Jamaica, M. (2021, May 19). DREAMers and undocumented students access to higher education: Findings from interviews with 33 DREAMers. Sharing the Dream Conference, Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling.

Becerril, R. (2021, May 19). Immigration 101. Sharing the Dream Conference, Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling.

Feldblum, M., Hubbard, S., Lim, A., Penichet-Paul, C., & Siegel, H. (2020, April). Undocumented students in higher education: How many students are in U.S. colleges and universities, and who are they? The Presidents’ Alliance for Higher Education and Immigration & New American Economy.

Load more comments
Thank you for the comment! Your comment must be approved first
New code