In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students and the DREAM Act: Implications for Higher Education

Article excerpt

Imagine three different students. First, there's Giovanni, a student from Salt Lake who just graduated with top grades from West High School. Next, there's Nancy, who learned English, stayed in school, stayed away from drugs, did everything she was told, and graduated as her high school's valedictorian. And lastly, there's Gabriela. She studied hard, got good grades and ranked first in her class of ROTC Cadets. Other than academic excellence, what is the common denominator linking them? They are all undocumented students who will be unable to afford college because they are charged out-of-state tuition, which can run two or three times higher than in-state tuition. These students are paying a high price for the decision their parents made to bring them to the United States at an early age. After spending most of their lives here, it's hard for them to think of themselves as anything other than American and pursuing the educational dream of higher education.

A National Dilemma

Colleges and universities are increasingly facing the decision as to what tuition rates should be charged to these undocumented students. Some states have passed laws that allow these students the earned opportunity to pay in-state tuition. Among them are Texas, California, Utah, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Washington, who grant in-state tuition to a student if he or she has attended high school in the state for at least three years. Administrative implications for colleges and universities implementing these statutes can include how to classify these students once they have gained instate tuition and enrolled in classes. Are they residents? International students? Individual approval? Special admission? Do they qualify for state financial aid assistance? Federal assistance? Many institutions have opted for in-state resident status so the student is able to receive some state assistance.

Measures to allow in-state tuition have met with fierce opposition from critics who claim the trend "slowly chips away at the cultural goal of citizenship." Critics also claim these states are skirting federal immigration laws which prohibit in-state tuition to illegal residents. These implications have placed higher education in the middle of an immigration tug-of-war, and raised academic questions regarding testing, assessment, evaluation, and reporting for this group of students. According to the Department of Education, 50,000-70,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year and 20 percent of the entire undocumented population is under fifteen years of age. The educational implications for this group will continue to grow during this decade and the next.

The DREAM Act

Even with in-state tuition, many immigrants face the stark reality of not qualifying for federal financial aid, and due to their immigration status, not being able to work once they graduate.The DREAM Act of 2003:The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), would address these issues and would permit qualifying immigrant students to apply for their permanent residency (green card) status, which in turn allows them to apply for federal financial aid. Under the legislation, illegal immigrants could apply for legal residency if they have lived in the U. …