DACA University: America’s Immigration Battle Over In-State Tuition

Posted on 04-21-2018 by
Tags: in-state tuition , college , university , DACA , Immigration , Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals


Advocates—both for and against—in-state tuition face a quickly evolving landscape.


College student or illegal student?

This is the unsteady balance faced by an undocumented student who’s protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

 In Arizona, the balance now tilts toward “illegal” student. Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously that DACA immigrants are ineligible for in-state tuition rates at state universities and community colleges. In Arizona, high school students are eligible for in-state tuition only if they are “lawfully present” in the state.

According to the Washington Post, this decision will bring major, monetary misery to nearly 2,000 DACA students in Arizona:

The decision means Arizona college tuition costs could double or even triple for DACA recipients. In-state tuition for the next school year at Arizona State University, for example, is $9,834, while nonresident tuition is $27,618 ....

In response to the decision, the Arizona’s Maricopa Community Colleges recently posted the following:

Unfortunately, due to the recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court regarding in-state tuition for DACA recipients, the tuition rate you see today might change.

Arizona’s decision follows Missouri’s recent decision to continue a ban on in-state tuition for DACA students. Last month, the Missouri House refused to revoke a provision that requires students with "unlawful immigration status" to be charged at least as much in tuition as international students.

College-Bound or Illegal-Bound? It Depends Where You Live

The uLead Network maps in-state tuition policies by state, categorizing each state in terms of “Inclusive” “Exclusive”* and “Unstipulated.” Several states, including California, Texas, New York, Maryland, and Florida are currently listed as “Inclusive,” meaning undocumented students are eligible to receive in-state tuition. “Exclusive” states—states that deny or restrict in-state tuition to undocumented students—include (among others) Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, and Alabama.

Despite the current environment, the issue is unsettled in many states, even those states currently deemed “Inclusive.” The NASPA Foundation notes that legislation (as of February 15th, 16 bills across 11 states regarding in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants) has been introduced more readily than last year (21 bills across 12 states by July of 2017). Pending bills vary, with some promoting inclusive policies and others promoting exclusive policies.

In-State Tuition: The Policy Argument Battle Undocumented Students

As state legislatures battle over the law, advocates battle over policy. On one side, “exclusive” advocates argue that educating non-citizens:

  • creates a burden (financial and resources) on schools;
  • takes college seats away from U.S. citizens;
  • makes states a magnet for immigrants; and
  • violates federal law limiting benefits for immigrants.

“Inclusive” advocates argue that in-state tuition for undocumented students is both fair and beneficial. Community College Review highlights these arguments:

[M]any illegal immigrants were brought to the United States when they were infants or young children by their parents, and they should not be made to suffer under America's immigration policies. Many of these students know no other home than America, and for all intents and purposes, could be considered American.

If given the opportunity to attend school affordably these students could become very productive, positive parts of the American economy - and certainly at a higher probability than turning them away and forcing them into the underground economy.

Responding to the financial-burden argument, “inclusive” advocates argue that in-state tuition is not the same as free tuition. This means, according to advocates, that undocumented students create a continuing source of school revenue.

In-State Tuition Laws: Constantly (and Quickly) Evolving

Advocates—both for and against—in-state tuition face a quickly evolving landscape. Blink, and the law changes in one state. Blink, and it changes is another. Look at New Jersey, where a bill to grant certain undocumented students access to financial aid services now sits on the governor’s desk. Or Connecticut, where legislators predict financial aid for undocumented students will finally pass.

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