DREAM Act passes Senate

The bill, which makes higher education more accessible to undocumented students, earned bipartisan support.

Alexi Gusso

The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow undocumented Minnesota students to pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid at colleges and universities in the state.

The Minnesota Prosperity, or DREAM, Act cleared the Senate 41-23, with four Republicans supporting it and one Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party member voting it down.

“I’m very proud of the Senate,” said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the bill’s chief author who has tried twice in the past to pass the bill.

Pappas told the Minnesota Daily earlier this week she was confident the bill would be included in the final higher education bill in the coming weeks after not being heard in the House earlier in the session.

To be eligible for tuition and aid, students would have to graduate from a Minnesota high school after attending for at least three years and sign an affidavit agreeing to apply for citizenship as soon as he or she is eligible.

University of Minnesota officials have indicated that if the measure passes, it would take steps to adopt a policy.

The University would lose an estimated $175,000 per year for allowing more students to pay in-state tuition. But the University signed off on a legislative fiscal note, indicating it could absorb the costs.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education assumes approximately 666 undergraduate students in the state will benefit from this bill. Of those, half will apply for and qualify for a state grant.

Legislators’ attempts have failed in the past, but this year, there was no negative discussion on the floor, which was “unprecedented,” said Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, who co-authored the bill.

“Those of us who were prepared to respond [to opposition] didn’t even have to speak,” she said.

Pappas credited this year’s support to a decrease in anti-immigration sentiment.

“There wasn’t immigrant bashing … on the Senate floor today,” Pappas said. “People were very respectful and supportive of students.”

Thirteen states have adopted various measures to allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition or financial aid.

Minnesota could become the 14th if it reaches the governor’s desk.

Gov. Mark Dayton is “strongly supportive of the DREAM Act,” according to his spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci. 

Removing barriers

University President Eric Kaler told the Daily last month that he supports the measure and would recommend the Board of Regents adopt it, if approved by the full Legislature.

Associate Vice President of Equity and Diversity Kristin Lockhart has spent seven years working to decrease barriers for undocumented students to come to the University, she said. She has spoken with administrators about the measure and heard no significant resistance.

An increase in undocumented students would likely be small at first but would grow over time with possible federal support in the future, Lockhart said.

She said the DREAM Act is consistent with goals to make the University more diverse.

“I think that any time we can remove barriers for students to being educated at the University … it is a win for everyone.”

If approved by the Legislature and the Board of Regents, Lockhart said the measure could take effect as early as this fall.