Blog: Latino Ed Beat

States Weigh Changes to College Admission, Tuition for Undocumented Students

Two state universities in Georgia will now admit undocumented immigrants to their campuses, despite legal restrictions that have barred these students from the state’s most selective public universities since 2010.

Meanwhile, legislators in nearby Florida are considering a bill that would reverse a 2014 decision to grant undocumented immigrants in-state college tuition rates if they attended high school in Florida. 

Of the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. – the vast majority from Mexico and Central America — around 2 million have lived here since childhood. And while K-12 public schools are legally required to educate all children regardless of their immigration status, higher education policies for educating undocumented students differ by state, even for those with temporary legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Twenty states, like Florida, offer in-state tuition at their public colleges and universities to undocumented students who meet certain residency requirements. Three states — Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina — do not admit undocumented students to certain or all state schools. In states with no official policies regarding undocumented students’ access to higher education, many times these students pay out-of-state or even international rates for public education, sociologists from the University of California, Merced, write in a recent article published by the Associated Press.

In Florida, an estimated 900 undocumented students received the in-state tuition discount last school year, a difference of more than $22,000 compared to out-state-tuition and fees at the University of Florida, for example, according to the Tampa Bay Times

But a Republican lawmaker from Sarasota who filed Senate Bill 82 Wednesday to overturn the 2014 ruling — which received bipartisan support in the Legislature and the praise of Republican Gov. Rick Scott — pointed to a renewed focus on illegal immigration as a good opportunity to consider an end to out-of-state tuition waivers for undocumented students.

“It is certainly a big issue in my district among my constituents, who were frustrated and upset that the state would allow undocumented illegal immigrants to receive taxpayer-supported in-state tuition,” Sen. Greg Steube told the Times. His Sarasota counterpart in the House plans to file a companion bill. 

Lawmakers in Georgia raised similar concerns about taxpayer funds back in 2010, when they enacted a policy to bar undocumented students from the state’s five most selective universities – University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia College and State University, Georgia State University and Augusta University.

The policy “was implemented in spite of a study conducted by the Regents that found that less than 1 percent of the state’s public college students were not legally present, and that students who pay out-of-state tuition, as people in the country illegally are required to do, more than pay for their education,” the Associated Press reports

Georgia State and Augusta University have since become less competitive, according to the article, prompting a decision last week to start admitting undocumented students. 

And while some activists, including an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), consider this a step in the right direction — two “less schools that are unconstitutionally discriminating against Georgia residents,” he told the AP — a legal battle still continues in the state. At issue: Should students who have received temporary legal status to live and work in the U.S. under DACA be considered lawful state residents, and thus able to qualify for in-state tuition?

In the latest development of the case Thursday, a top lawyer for Georgia defended the state’s decision not to grant in-state tuition to DACA recipients, arguing that with President-elect Donald Trump poised to take office, the future of DACA is “very much in doubt.”