Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Kenneth Gonzalez, PhD, Chair; Reyes L. Quezada, EdD, Member; Rose Linda Martínez, EdD, Member


collegiate experiences, federal funds, helping professions, higher education, Leadership studies, minority & ethnic groups, persistence, post-graduation, support system, undocumented students


According to the U.S. Constitution as construed by the Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) Supreme Court Case, all children in the United States - from kindergarten through grade twelve - have a right to a free public education regardless of citizenship; however, undocumented students seeking to continue their education beyond high school face multiple barriers. Little is known about the actual experiences of undocumented students who have acquired a university degree. The purpose of this study was to understand the collegiate experiences of undocumented students, specifically the process of persisting through college graduation and their contributions to society post graduation. This study employed qualitative data methods to explore undocumented students' collegiate experiences. Twenty-one in-depth interviews were conducted. A concept modeling approach (Padilla, 1991) was the method of data analysis used to understand and describe their experiences. The following research questions guided the study: 1) How do undocumented students access U.S. colleges? 2) What barriers complicate their efforts to persist? 3) What factors support their efforts to persist? 4) In what ways have undocumented college graduates contributed to society? The findings of the study revealed that accessing and persisting through college involved several elements of encouragement and discouragement. The elements of encouragement included: college preparatory programs and events, advice from counselors and teachers, private scholarships, family and friends, networking groups, and life improvements. The elements of discouragement consisted of: the predicament of having undocumented status, advice from counselors, the lack of federal funds available for undocumented students, economic hardships, familial obstacles, and undocumented stigmatism. In addition, the data indicated a number of ways participants contributed to society. For example, upon college graduation all participants choose careers in the helping professions. They became teachers, counselors, advisors, medical doctors, scholars, and administrators. The significance of this study contributed to the knowledge of student persistence in higher education, immigrant student experiences, and state and federal immigration policy.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies