State Legislatures Cautiously Consider In-State Rates for Undocumented Students

By Branch-Brioso, Karen | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

State Legislatures Cautiously Consider In-State Rates for Undocumented Students


Branch-Brioso, Karen, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Maryland lawmakers take cues from California legal battles to craft a tuition policy for undocumented immigrants.

When the University of Maryland System pondered offering in-state tuition to undocumented students, chancellor William E. Kirwan looked to California - among the early states to pass such a law - for a model.

That changed last fall, when a California appellate court ruled the law conflicts with federal law. The California Supreme Court agreed to review that decision in arguments expected to be heard late this year or next year.

Meanwhile, undocumented students in California continue to receive in-state tuition.

But states like Maryland now are avoiding that model as it sits in legal limbo in California.

"We thought maybe what was happening in California did work for us. If a student were to graduate from a Maryland high school after going for three years and was an unregistered immigrant, we would grant them in-state tuition," Kirwan tells Diverse. "But what seems to have happened in California is to say, 'Well, you can't use that to get around this' - at least that's what the appeals court in California says."

California lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 540 in 2001, soon after Texas became the first state to pass a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented college students. Those laws - and others that followed in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington - came in the wake of 1996 federal laws that restrict benefits to undocumented immigrants.

One law banned awarding postsecondary education benefits to undocumented students on the basis of state residency "unless a citizen or national of the United States is (also) eligible for such a benefit without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident." The other federal law said states may provide public benefits to undocumented immigrants "only through the enactment of a state law after Aug. 22, 1996" that provides for the benefit. So those 10 states eventually did.

According to Brenda Bautsch, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures, several states besides Maryland are pondering similar bills: Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey and Virginia. She says Arkansas and Missouri lawmakers are taking a different route, debating bills to ban in-state tuition for undocumented students.

AB 540, as California's law is known, avoids the federal residencybased tuition rule by offering in-state tuition to those who graduate from a California high school after attending at least three years. Through this approach, California offers in-state tuition to undocumented students, not because they reside in California but because they attended and graduated from a California high school. Boarding school children who live in other states qualify. …

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State Legislatures Cautiously Consider In-State Rates for Undocumented Students
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