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Much research has been undertaken to understand the relative influences of a variety of conditions and contexts on the success of college students in general. Relatively less work has been done, however, to understand such influences for Latino students and even fewer empirical studies exist concentrating on the undocumented college student experience. What research does exist has largely centered on more traditionally acknowledged factors, but as Wentzel (2005) identifies, it is also “feasible that social competence with peers leads to academic accomplishments, either because interactions with peers facilitate intellectual development or because social or cultural norms communicated by peers define the nature of task competence” (pp. 285-286). As such, one understudied but necessary source of influence and support that could prove essential to the undocumented student’s success and retention then is relationships with like-minded college peers (Dennis, Phinney, & Chauteco, 2005; Di, 2012).

This dissertation examined the type of relationships and the role of peer relationships in the college experiences of undocumented Latino college students. This qualitative case study of 4 undocumented students at a Research I University in the Southwest utilized data collected from semi-structured interviews to seek to understand how and in what ways peers contributed to their college experiences.

The literature explained that there are influences on students’ college experiences, including peer relationships, but the effect on undocumented students is less well known. Coding analysis was used to identify themes. The themes were disappointment, support and connection, disconnection, Astin’s I-E-O model, home environment, family influence and generation in the United States, perceived status and privilege, ethnic identity, in-state tuition policies and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and peer relationships. Within peer relationships the identified themes were providing information, emotional support, access granting and helping relationships. Identification of those themes gave the basis for the hypothesis that positive peer relationships could be beneficial to undocumented Latino college students. Peer relationships had a connection that solidified the importance of this aspect of college student experiences to each theme.

Excluding the work of Perez and Cortes (2011), there is little to no literature that directly connects peer relationships, undocumented college students, and college experiences. Due to this oversight, this study sought to begin the discussion that may help to fill that gap. The findings of this study may help college administration to understand an aspect of undocumented Latino college student success that goes beyond the classroom. Instituting programs that intentionally facilitate more peer interaction may provide the necessary environment for positive peer relationships to be developed.



Ethnic identity, In-state resident tuition, Latinos, Peer relationships, Social support, Tier one universities, Undocumented