March 2, 2012

Amendment aims to help undocumented students gain in-state tuition

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Promising young college students have come to Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, with a problem. A new state law has brought these bright students' pursuits of a college degree to a screeching halt.

Victoria, who recently brought the issue to Leising's attention, is one example.

A junior at Indiana University who has a 4.0 grade point average, Victoria had her college education abruptly cut short in the fall semester of 2011.

She was required to pay out-of-state tuition because of a new law which prohibits undocumented students who reside in Indiana from getting in-state tuition.

Tuition for out-of-state students, which is now almost three times what Victoria was paying for the 2010-11 school year, made it impossible for her to return to school. She is a waitress now, and unsure about when or if she will be able to finish her college degree.

Leising would like to change this law, especially for college students who were already attending college when the law was changed.

The senator is not alone. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), the official public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Indiana, also supports the effort.

"We are supportive of efforts to help undocumented college students complete their college education," said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director. "These college students are working hard to provide for themselves, and should be able to do so. They and their families are paying sales, property and income taxes. In that way, they are supporting the state, and its institutions and programs."

Leising offered an amendment to House Bill 1326, a bill on various education matters, to correct the problem. Her amendment would "grandfather" college students like Victoria, who were already enrolled in college when the law was changed. The amendment does not help students who are currently in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. It stipulated that students must be lawfully residing here to qualify for in-state tuition rates. ICC opposed the legislation.

"Until last year, high school graduates entering college could get in-state tuition even if they did not have legal status," Leising said. "Students like Victoria are funding 100 percent of the tuition by their hard work and hard work of their family. Undocumented immigrants are not able to get financial assistance for college.

"The young women I have talked to were brought to this country when they were in preschool. They have attended school from grades K-12 and are as Americanized as any other American child would be. These kids would be misplaced if they went back to their home country."

The out-of-state tuition fees for these students are compounded by the fact that they can't qualify for any kind of student financial assistance from the state, Leising said.

"I do not believe that they should qualify for state student assistance—I'm not advocating that—but I just want them to be able to complete their college education so that hopefully they can continue to pursue their legal status," she said.

"These kids all want to be legal. One young person came to see me with her immigration attorney. The immigration attorney told me that there are young adults who are in their early 20s that might have to wait up to 20 years to achieve legal status because they have aged out of the system."

The immigration attorney told Leising that when a person ages out of the system that means it basically took the system too long to grant them legal status. The process starts all over again, and the person must apply in a different category.

"These kids are in the prime of their life as far as working and career making, yet they potentially will not have access to a legal status or may have to wait 20 years to get it," Leising said.

Currently, 12 states have laws allowing undocumented students who meet specific requirements to receive

in-state tuition, according to an October 2011 report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures. California and Texas were the first to enact laws in 2001. Utah, Washington, Oklahoma, New York, Kansas and Illinois also have similar laws allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

Four states, including Indiana, prohibit in-state tuition for undocumented students. Arizona passed its in-state prohibition in 2006. Colorado and Georgia passed a similar law in 2008.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org.)


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