Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Dr. William C. Bosher, Jr.

Second Advisor

Dr. Sarah Jane Brubaker


Although immigration is considered the responsibility and authority of the federal government, there is no clear federal policy regarding undocumented students and higher education. This leaves the power to regulate undocumented students in higher education to state governments. In Virginia, there is no specific, state-wide policy that addresses undocumented students and admission and enrollment in public higher education. Because of this, policies and practices related to the admission and enrollment of undocumented students are created at the university level. There is, however, state policy in Virginia related to legal immigration status and eligibility for in-state tuition. This creates a complex dynamic in which immigration-related practices, which are legally regulated on the federal level, are actually determined on the state and institutional level.

Through interviews with admissions professionals at 12 Virginia, public 4-year colleges and universities, this research study uses a descriptive qualitative case study to explore the application of institution level undergraduate policies and practices related to undocumented students. The findings suggest that of the 12 institutions, five knowingly enroll undocumented students; six admit undocumented students but do not knowingly enroll undocumented students; and one institution does not admit or enroll undocumented students. None of the schools offers in-state tuition to undocumented students.

Seven themes emerged from the 12 interviews, and these themes are grouped into two categories. The themes in the first category relate to the experiences of undocumented students and include funding challenges, fear, lack of knowledge of higher education processes, and post-graduation challenges. The themes in the second category are related to policy and practice, and the professionals who create and implement those policies and practices. The themes that emerged in this category are changing demographics, ambiguity, and professional and personal values. These themes are interpreted and discussed through the theoretical frameworks of administrative discretion and wicked problems. Recommendations for future research are provided.


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