Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence from DACA

Elira Kuka et al
Date of Publication: 
February, 2018
Source Organization: 
National Skills Coalition

This paper suggests that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program had a significant impact on young undocumented immigrants' decision-making. The paper highlights increases in high school attendance and high school graduation rates, increased pursuit of postsecondary education, and greater workforce participation by those pursuing education, as well as decreased teen fertility rates. The study draws on data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the Youth Risk Behavior Factor Surveillance Survey, and a California Department of Education dataset. It uses a "difference in differences" technique to compare youth who would likely have been eligible for DACA with a similarly situated population of non-eligible foreign-born youth. The researchers found that states that had enacted so-called "tuition equity" or "state-level Dream Act" legislation - that is, bills that allow undocumented youth to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges -- saw greater increases in postsecondary participation among DACA youth than states that had not. However, post-secondary participation rates increased for young women, not for young men, leading to speculation that undocumented men are generally more likely to be concentrated in sections of the labor market that depend more on manual labor skills and are less likely to require postsecondary credentials. The study's findings suggest that young undocumented immigrants respond quickly and enthusiastically when policymakers present them with a path to greater educational and workforce opportunities. The findings are especially notable among young Hispanic men, who are often vulnerable to high school dropout pressures, and young women, who demonstrated eagerness to pursue postsecondary education despite the fact that such education was not required in order to obtain DACA status. (Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, National Skills Coalition)

Paper available free-of-charge to government employees and for a fee to others


Kuka, E., Shenhav, N., & Shih, K. (2018). Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence from DACA (No. w24315). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.