by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Austin Community College
Dreamer students — individuals brought to the United States when they were infants or children — have held their ground when it comes to paying in-state tuition despite President Trump’s termination of a program that gave them renewable, temporary protected status, an action that puts them at risk of deportation.
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At least 20 states and the District of Columbia have “tuition equity” laws or policies that permit certain students who have attended and graduated from secondary schools in their state to pay the same tuition as their “in-state” classmates at their state’s public institutions of higher education, regardless of their immigration status.
Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in September 2017, creating fear and uncertainty among 800,000 Dreamers, including 600,000 who are high school or college students. His action contradicted his statement from seven months earlier that he would work with Congress to fix the immigration status of DACA recipients. “We are gonna deal with DACA with heart,” said Trump. “To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases,” he said.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, more than 75 percent of the nation’s foreign-born population live in states with tuition equity laws or policies, and other states are considering similar measures. Requirements of tuition equity laws and policies vary from state to state, but eligible students generally must have attended a school in the state for a certain number of years, and graduated from high school or obtained a GED in the state.
“These policies are intended primarily to help young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and have worked hard in school with the hope of going to college but then discover that they face insurmountable obstacles,” wrote NILC in a fact sheet. “According to experts in the states that have adopted tuition equity laws or policies, the cost of implementing them has been negligible. In-state tuition is not the same as free tuition. It is a discount, but in fact the money paid by these students often increases school revenues because it represents income that the institutions would not otherwise receive.”
Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, an association that promotes the student affairs profession, points out that while immigration policy is typically a federal government responsibility, tuition at state postsecondary institutions falls under the purview of states. NASPA adds that “there are many sound economic and public good incentives to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants for states,” including that Dreamer students are more likely to enroll in college in states that offer tuition equity laws than those in states without these policies. Dreamer students completing college may increase the wealth of the state, and support efforts to close the gap in high school graduation rates.
The National Council of State Legislatures reports that only Arizona, Georgia and Indiana prohibit undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates, although a bill was filed in Indiana in January that would repeal the restriction on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Oklahoma filed a bill last year that would have required citizenship as a prerequisite for in-state tuition.