Higher education access and affordability for undocumented students will continue to be debated in 2009, with potential trend-setting consequences. Existing federal law pertaining to in-state tuition for undocumented students is ambiguous, and Congress has repeatedly failed to pass a measure such as the DREAM Act that would support states’ rights to offer in-state tuition to these students. Between 2001 and 2006, 10 states passed measures to provide in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who meet the specified criteria (including residency in the state for a given period of time, earning a high school diploma, and signing an affidavit to agree to seek legal residency status), but since then, no additional states have followed suit. Policymakers have become increasingly wary of acting on this issue without the support of federal law.Support the DREAM Act.
In the past couple of years, there have been several high-profile court challenges to existing in-state tuition laws. In September 2008, a California appeals court ruled for the first time that the state’s 2001 law giving undocumented students in-state tuition rates violates a 1996 federal law. The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and though not binding on other states, it will have implications elsewhere. Officials in other states (including Texas and Utah) have already asked for similar review of their state laws. Also for the first time in 2008, the right of undocumented students to enroll in public institutions in a state has been called into question. In South Carolina, undocumented students have been barred from enrolling in all public institutions (even if they pay out-of-state tuition rates), and in North Carolina and Alabama, they have been barred from community colleges.
As to the future, the new administration and the new Congress should be more favorable toward passing federal legislation that would clarify states’ rights to offer in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students. With this change, the number of states with laws favorable to undocumented students would likely increase, and such a law could stem court challenges such as the one in California. However, this would remain a contentious issue in the states, as not all states will move in a direction favorable to undocumented students and states could still act to bar these students from enrolling in public colleges. If Congress fails to enact such legislation, it is highly unlikely that educational opportunity for undocumented students will improve.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Posted by Matias Ramos
Within its report detailing the ten most pressing student issues for the year 2009, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities lays out the landscape for access to higher education for undocumented students. Some states face challenges, some states are looking to pass in-state laws, and some others are essentially shutting their doors down. The policy report is here.