Blog: The Educated Reporter

Daring to DREAM: Rhode Island Opens Higher Ed Door to Immigrant Students

Rhode Island’s state higher education board took a big step Monday toward opening the doors of higher education to undocumented students, according to this story by the Associated Press.

The DREAM Act is a long way from reality, and so far there’s no federal initiative that’s been approved to solve the question of what to do with undocumented students. Federal law requires they be provided equitable public education opportunities through the 12th grade. After that, they’re on their own.

There are plenty of states wrangling with the same issue as Rhode Island: What to do with students who graduate from local high schools only to face barriers because of their immigration status. In some cases students can enroll, but only at the (significantly) higher out-of-state tuition rate.

What’s interesting about this particular instance, as AP reporter Erika Niedowski explains, is that Rhode Island’s Board of Governors appears to have circumvented the state’s Legislature, which has opted not to act on the issue of undocumented students.

Rhode Island is not offering undocumented students a route to bypass federal law. Students are eligible for the in-state tuition only if they agree to immediately seek legal residency status. It’s a clever move by the Board of Governors to include this clause, as it undercuts the argument that allowing undocumented students into the state’s colleges and universities is encouraging illegal behavior.

What Rhode Island’s Board of Governors’ has proposed seems sensible for other reasons too. In the short term, the tuition-paying students will be contributing to the state’s economy. In the long term, they represent the future workforce.