Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday that undocumented youth who are granted deferred action will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities once they receive their work permits through the federal program.
Patrick sent a letter on Monday to Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, directing him to advise the 29 state colleges and universities to implement the new policy immediately.
“As I see it, this is a matter of basic fairness and economic competitiveness,” the governor wrote in the letter about the new policy. “Indeed, our commonwealth is stronger when we embrace the talent, ides and work ethic of all immigrants. That is why I will continue to support state legislation allowing qualified, resident graduates of Massachusetts high schools to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of immigration status.”
The policy change will dramatically reduce the tuition cost undocumented youth currently pay to obtain a college education in Massachusetts. To attend one year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for example, dreamers must pay the out-of-state tuition cost of $26,000. The in-state tuition cost there is about $13,000.
In-state tuition rate makes college more affordable for dreamers
Those who oppose the policy change argue that in-state tuition benefits should only go to U.S. citizens and legal residents. Meanwhile, supporters see the policy change as a way to make college more affordable for undocumented youth.
“This is really big for me,” Yonerky Santana, a 23-year-old dreamer who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic 14 years ago, told VOXXI about being able to pay in-state tuition. “It means I will be able to finish my degree a lot faster.”
For the last two years, Santana has been paying $900 to take one class at North Shore Community College every semester. The in-state tuition rate will allow her to become a full-time student and pay about $300 a class. Eventually, she plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a degree in health science.
Santana also said the new policy will encourage many undocumented high school students—who thought college was out of reach because of the high tuition cost—to attend college upon graduation.
Tuition rates for dreamers in other states
But not all states have come out in support of allowing deferred action recipients to pay in-state tuition.
On Aug. 15, the first day dreamers were able apply for the federal program, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer filed an executive order denying deferred action dreamers driver’s licenses and other public benefit, including in-state tuition.
However, deferred action beneficiaries can pay the in-state tuition rates at any of the Maricopa Community Colleges if they present their work permits.
Besides Arizona, there are at least three other states that charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition. Florida doesn’t grant undocumented students in-state tuition either but there are colleges that offer dreamers tuition waivers if they meet certain requirements, such as having a 3.5 grade point average.
Alabama and South Carolina have gone farther, banning undocumented students from enrolling in public postsecondary institutions. Georgia bars them from attending the state’s five public universities.
Currently, 12 states have laws that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges. The state of Maryland is the most recent addition to that list.