No Excuses Left Against In-State Tuition

I saw this headline the other day, and it got me thinking.

Colorado Senate passes bill allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

Colorado’s state senate is 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans, a far cry from the Massachusetts state senate’s 36 Democrats and 4 Republicans, by way of comparison.

Also, this past Election Day, while a great deal of attention was given to statewide ballot questions across the country on same-sex marriage equality and marijuana legalization, Maryland’s electorate overwhelmingly passed in-state tuition.

Would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state or in-county tuition at Maryland colleges.
For        1,392,932   58%
Against     995,619   42%

In fact, many states have enacted in-state tuition policies.  Via the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Twelve states currently have statutes that condition eligibility for instate tuition on attendance and graduation from a state high school and acceptable college admission applications.  In June 2001, Texas (HB1403) was the first state to pass legislation allowing in-state tuition for immigrant students, followed by California (AB540), Utah (HB144), and New York (SB7784) in 2001-2002; Washington (HB1079), Illinois (HB60) in 2003; Kansas (HB2145) in 2004; New Mexico (SB582) in 2005; Nebraska (LB239) in 2006; Wisconsin (A75) in 2009; Maryland (S167/H470) and Connecticut (H6390) in 2011. The state laws permit these students to become eligible for in-state tuition if they graduate from state high schools, have two to three years residence in the state, and apply to a state college or university. The student may be required to sign an affidavit promising to seek legal immigration status.  These requirements for unauthorized immigrant students are stricter than the residency requirements for out-of-state students to gain in-state tuition.

In 2003, Oklahoma passed SB 596 allowing instate tuition, but in 2008, HB 1804 was enacted, which ended its in-state tuition benefit, including financial aid, for students without lawful presence in the United States. HB1804 allowed the Oklahoma State Regents to enroll a student in higher education institutions permitted that they meet special requirements.

In July, 2011, California enacted legislation permitting unauthorized immigrant students to receive financial aid and scholarships (A130).

In September, 2011, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education approved policy to allow unauthorized students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges.

In 2011, Maryland enacted legislation allowing instate tuition for unauthorized immigrant students provided they meet certain conditions, including the completion of 60 credit hours or graduation from a community college in Maryland. The law was put on the 2012 ballot and on November 6, Maryland voters approved the ballot measure 59 to 41 percent.

This point is important for more than just a peer pressure argument.  The suggestion isn’t “everybody else is doing it, so why don’t we?”  This is actually about geography.

Opponents of in-state tuition have argued that, if Massachusetts passes in-state tuition, the result will be an increase in the number of undocumented immigrants residing in Massachusetts.  But that line of argumentation clearly makes no sense when you look at the geography.

Ostensibly, opponents of in-state tuition are concerned about illegal immigration from Latin America.  However, an immigrant crossing the Rio Grande or making his or her way across the Gulf of Mexico will pass through numerous in-state-tuition states before reaching Massachusetts.  With states from Texas to Maryland to New York and Connecticut already offering in-state tuition, it is nonsense to suggest that Massachusetts will become a prominent destination for undocumented immigrants simply because of passing in-state tuition.

The next argument opponents of in-state tuition tend to make is one about alleged costs to taxpayers.  However, as the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation’s landmark analysis of in-state tuition lays out, in-state tuition actually generates millions of dollars for the public coffers!

The tuition and fees from undocumented immigrants would constitute new revenues for the state’s higher education campuses because few, if any, undocumented immigrants are currently enrolled and paying out-of-state rates. This small number of new students could be accommodated by the 29 campuses at virtually no additional cost. […]

In the first year, the state’s public higher education campuses would receive between $1.8 million and $2.1 million in new revenues, as shown in Table 2. By the fourth year, new revenues from undocumented students would total between $6.4 million and $7.4 million.

Of course, those are just the immediate benefits of in-state tuition to the taxpayers of Massachusetts.  The long-term benefits are also obvious.  Any child, regardless of immigration status, is more likely to prosper with a college education than without.  As the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, someone with a Bachelor’s degree earned an average of $1,066 a week in 2012, compared with only $652 a week for someone possessing only a high school diploma.  That difference of over $400 a week equates to a difference of over $21,000 a year.

In other words, new beneficiaries of in-state tuition – students who otherwise would not have been able to afford a college education – will likely pay more in taxes to the public coffers in the long term thanks to a higher income.  The higher income potential will also lessen the likelihood of any long-term dependence on public assistance.  Put plainly, in-state tuition is good for the taxpayers, in both the short-term and the long-term.

After arguing that in-state tuition will attract more undocumented immigrants and that in-state tuition is bad for taxpayers, the final fig leaf that opponents contend is that we shouldn’t “reward illegal activity” by extending in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.  However, anyone claiming that in-state tuition “rewards illegal activity” misses the point of the legislation – that in-state tuition actually encourages good behavior.

Consider S. 577, an act regarding higher education opportunities for high school graduates in the Commonwealth, the in-state tuition bill filed by State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz.  To be eligible for in-state tuition, a student must be someone who:

has attended high school in the commonwealth for 3 or more years and has graduated from a high school in the commonwealth or attained the equivalent thereof in the commonwealth [… Also, an] eligible person shall provide the University of Massachusetts, or any other state university or state college or community college in the commonwealth with (i) a valid social security number or a document reflecting issuance of an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) in lieu of a social security number; (ii) if that person is not a citizen of the United States or a legal permanent resident of the United States, an affidavit signed under the pains and penalties of perjury stating that the person has applied for citizenship or legal permanent residence or will apply for citizenship or legal permanent residence in accordance with federal statute and federal regulations within 120 days of eligibility for such status and (iii) documentation of registration with the selective service, if applicable.

By requiring a Commonwealth-based high school education (which also reminds us that we have already invested in these students’ educations at at least the high school level), the application for citizenship or legal permanent residence, and registration with the selective service, the in-state tuition bill in reality encourages good behavior rather than rewards illegal activity.  We want these students to study hard and succeed academically; we want these students to come out of the shadows and share in civic investment through an SSN or ITIN, through application for citizenship or legal permanent residence, and through registration with the selective service.  These are all positive outcomes.

But didn’t Governor Deval Patrick address the issue completely with his executive action last November?  While Governor Patrick did all he could under executive authority, he couldn’t address the issue entirely:

In Massachusetts, in-state tuition is not available to undocumented immigrants — just those immigrants who have been approved for a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The program allows certain young immigrants who have been in the country illegally to live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. If approved, immigrants are issued a work permit.

That work permit is what gave Gov. Patrick the grounds to extend in-state tuition to DACA recipients. Since 2008, Massachusetts has used work permits as a way to establish that an immigrant is eligible for resident tuition rates. […]

That said, the policy in Massachusetts will impact a narrower segment of immigrants than what exists in other states, since in-state tuition will only be available to DACA recipients and not the general population of undocumented immigrants.

According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center, only about 39% of undocumented immigrants are “potentially eligible” for relief under the deferred action program.  Assuming that national rate is roughly equivalent to Massachusetts’ rate, the vast majority remain ineligible for in-state tuition under this program, meaning that legislative action is still necessary.

Opponents of in-state tuition cannot claim that the policy will make Massachusetts a magnet for undocumented immigrants because too many other states have already enacted in-state tuition for that argument to make sense.  Further, opponents of in-state tuition cannot claim that the policy will cost Massachusetts taxpayers money because that’s been completely refuted, in both the short-term and long-term.  Finally, opponents of in-state tuition cannot claim that the policy rewards illegal activity because the legislation actually encourages – in fact, requires – good behavior and positive outcomes.

So what excuses are left?  I mean, other than xenophobia.


One Comment . Leave a comment below.
  1. where's this at?

    Great post and I agree entirely. Tonight Needham is having an immigration forum at our public library, sponsored by the Needham League of Women Voters. I have no doubt this will come up. Thanks for the reminders as to what an absolute no-brainer this is.

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Fri 28 Apr 9:30 PM