Give undocumented students in-state tuition

Give undocumented students in-state tuition

Kevin Griffin

Few issues have been more polarizing at both state and national government levels than immigration.

North Carolina officials have brought up one point of contention in this debate: in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Responding to a request from the General Assembly, the Attorney General’s office said recently that under current state law, undocumented students are not allowed in-state tuition, according to WRAL. They went on to say that only a change in the law would allow undocumented students to benefit from in-state tuition.

There are a number of important reasons why, in light of this recent legal interpretation, the state should consider extending in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students.

Currently, 17 states allow undocumented students to have in-state tuition, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In most cases, this was done under certain conditions. Those students who were eligible must have graduated from state high schools, and students must be taking steps to gain legal status, among other qualifications, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

North Carolina could adopt measures along these lines, allowing students who show a willingness to become educated and add to the state economy.

Examining the status of undocumented immigrants in this country as well as the state shows why extending in-state tuition could be helpful.

Approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate high school annually in the United States, according to the College Board. The Pew Hispanic Center found in 2009 that most undocumented students graduate high school at lower levels than other groups, and only approximately half of those go to college, compared to 71 percent of those born in the United States.

Add this to other findings of the center showing the lower incomes of undocumented immigrants and a clear picture of the dismal situation so many face is clear.

These are individuals who can make contributions to our state and our nation, and allowing them to have in-state tuition could provide an opportunity to contribute.

A college education would be a means for helping them escape cycles of poverty and lower earnings, a cycle that affects everyone.

In-state tuition lowered the amount of high school dropouts by 14 percent, according to a 2011 study by the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, titled “The Effects of In-State Tuition for Non-Citizens: A Systematic Review of the Evidence.”

The review also found no evidence  that offering in-state tuition to undocumented students causes a great drain on public resources.

The state alone will not  fix all the problems in our immigration system. But while we await federal action, lifting the state’s legal obstacles for undocumented students could be a start.
Permitting in-state tuition would be a benefit not only to the state, but to the university as well.

Vice Chancellor of Student Development Cindy Wallace has expressed disappointment at the decision, and said that undocumented students are heavily motivated and “add a richness of perspective and cultural diversity to our campus.”

Allowing in-state tuition for the undocumented would be a positive move, and is an action state lawmakers should take.

Opinion: Kevin Griffin, Opinion Writer