States now have more incentive to offer in-state tuition and need-based financial aid for undocumented students.
On Jan. 16, U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced the Investing IN States To Achieve Tuition Equity (IN-STATE) for Dreamers Act of 2014, along with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The IN-STATE for Dreamers Act establishes the American Dream Grant program, which encourages states to increase access to higher education for low-income students, regardless of immigration status.
The program would provide $750 million in need-based student financial aid to states that set up equitable in-state tuition rates, or offer state financial aid to undocumented students who graduate from American high schools.
In a prepared statement, Rep. Polis said this legislation would put higher education within reach for many “de-facto American students.”
“When a student has put in the hard work and dedication required to get into college in their home state, it is unconscionable to deny them the chance to continue their education, based solely on higher costs due to a broken immigration system,” he said.
Currently, Colorado is one of 19 states to offer in-state tuition for undocumented students. The Colorado Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow (ASSET) program already allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
According to Colorado state law, prospective students must meet the following criteria to qualify for ASSET: attended a public or private high school in Colorado for at least three years; graduated from a Colorado high school or completed a Colorado GED; be admitted to a Colorado college or university within 12 months of graduation — if not, the individual must submit proof of continuous physical presence in Colorado for 18 months.
In addition, students without lawful presence must also complete an affidavit indicating that they have applied for legal presence, or will apply as soon as they are eligible to do so.
At Colorado Mountain College, students who meet all of these criteria can then apply to college by completing the CMC application, the ASSET application and, if applicable, the affidavit stating they have or will apply for legal presence. If the student has lived in the CMC district for the past 32 days, it is possible to not only qualify for in-state tuition, but also qualify for the in-district tuition rate, which is $56 per credit hour for 100- and 200-level classes.
According to CMC spokesperson Debra Crawford, the college had 150 students register under ASSET college-wide as of the end of November 2013. The college enrolls about 25,000 students annually at 11 campuses across Colorado.
“This legislation ... is an important step forward in reforming our broken immigration system, strengthening our workforce and improving our economy,” Polis said.
On average, in-state tuition at public, four-year colleges is $8,893, much less than the average out-of-state tuition rate of $22,203 per year. Those savings often make the difference between a student being able to attend college at all, Polis said.
“All qualified students should have the same opportunities to get a college degree, regardless of their immigration status,” Sen. Murray said with the release of the IN-STATE for Dreamers Act. “Undocumented students are no different than their classmates. They live in the same towns, attend the same schools, and share the same dreams — and they deserve an equal chance to go to college and start successful careers in this country.”
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) have also signed on as co-sponsors of this legislation. Hirono was an immigrant who came to America at a young age, and Castro said the bill will increase access to college for the almost 100,000 students who have applied for Deferred Action, administrative relief from deportation that authorizes a non-U.S. citizen to temporarily remain in the country.
Numerous organizations have vocalized support for the IN-STATE for Dreamers Act, including the National Immigration Law Center, First Focus Campaign for Children, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council for Opportunity in Education and The Education Trust.