Illegal Immigrants Pay In-State Tuition
Maryland became the 12th state in the country to allow illegal immigrants living within its borders to attend colleges and universities at in-state prices when Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Senate Bill 167 in early May.
In order to qualify for the in-state prices—which can reduce the cost of tuition by more than 50 percent—illegal immigrants must meet several qualifications. They must:
Have attended a state high school for at least three years beginning with the 2005-06 school year;
Have graduated from a state high school or received a high school equivalency certificate beginning with the 2007-08 school year;
Have registered at a Maryland community college no earlier than the fall 2011 semester;
Provide documentation that the student or his or her parents have filed a Maryland income tax return annually for the past three years and while attending college; and
Register at a community college within four years of high school graduation.
Illegal immigrants also must either receive an associate degree or earn 60 credit hours at a community college before transferring to a university. Men who are eligible to register for the Selective Service must show proof of registration and all undocumented students must sign an affidavit stating they will file an application to become a permanent U.S. resident when eligible.
For Sen. Victor Ramirez, the bill’s chief sponsor, Senate Bill 167 is about making sure the state is not creating a permanent underclass of residents.
“In the practical sense, they’re going to continue to live in our communities,” Ramirez said. “They’re part of our communities, so what do we do with them? … Why not give them the opportunity to contribute back to the state of Maryland?”
Ramirez said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states must provide a K-12 education for all children, whether they are legal U.S. citizens or not. It doesn’t make sense, he said, to invest that much money in a child and then keep that child from getting the higher education that could better his or her life.
“Why should we educate children of undocumented immigrants? If we don’t, we are setting them up for failure and we’re creating a permanent underground community,” Ramirez said. “… That ultimately doesn’t benefit anybody, when you knowingly have an uneducated population.”
Delegate Neil Parrott has started a petition drive against the bill to get the measure on the ballot. He said he opposes the measure because it will cost Maryland too much since the in-state tuition rates are “heavily subsidized by the state.”
“The biggest thing is, we have a $1.1 billion structural deficit,” Parrott said. “… We’re spending more each year than we have coming in from tax dollars. It’s not stable. We’re borrowing money just to get through the year.”
The fiscal note attached to Senate Bill 167 said the new law may increase the community college funding formula by up to $778,000 by 2014 due to the increased number of in-state students, which is used in the formula. The costs could reach $3.5 million by the 2016 fiscal year. The fiscal note does stress “there is little information available on the number of additional students who might qualify for resident tuition, thus the general fund expenditure increase cannot be reliably estimated.”
Representatives from the University System of Maryland and the Maryland Association of Community Colleges—which both came out in favor of the bill—said they don’t expect any dramatic increases in enrollment.
Jody Kallis, legislative liaison for the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, said student enrollment did pick up during the recession and some high-demand programs such as nursing and dental hygiene are closed to new students. Although paying in-state tuition prices is a boon, she said, these students are not eligible for state or federal financial aid so going to school still will not be easy.
“Are they here illegally, absolutely,” Kallis said. “But this is basically a problem for the federal government to address. To keep them from going to postsecondary education doesn’t seem the way to handle it.”
William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, believes the state and the country need to find a way to deal with this issue.
“If an unregistered immigrant comes into the United States, they are entitled to go through our K-12 system free, they have to,” Kirwan said in an interview with Maryland Public Television. “We pay for their education. Now, where is the logic in saying, ‘OK, we’re going to educate you this far, but we’re going to put a barrier in front of you from completing your four-year education’? These young people are going to stay in our country. We should want them to be as educated as they possible can be to help us meet our goals for an educated workforce.”
But, Parrott said, Maryland should be enforcing federal immigration laws and not finding a way around them.
“We’re becoming more and more of a sanctuary state,” he said. “I think we’ll see (more) migration of illegal aliens. What we’re going to see in places where they end up, we’re going to have to pay a lot of money to have them there.”