Two proposals could help undocumented students

Dayton included one proposal in his budget; legislators also introduced a bill.

Two proposals could help undocumented students

Janice Bitters

Two proposals at the state Capitol could make college cheaper for undocumented students in Minnesota.

The proposed measures would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities in Minnesota and receive scholarships and grants.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants the state to adopt federal guidelines on admitting undocumented students, while two state legislators have a bill that would ease restrictions for students to receive in-state tuition.

Many smaller state schools allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they charge a flat rate for all students, but a few, including the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, charge these students at out-of-state tuition rates.

Currently, undocumented students are not eligible for state grants or private scholarships in Minnesota.

In his 2014 budget proposal for higher education, Dayton suggested Minnesota adopt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — federal guidelines that would allow undocumented students to qualify for temporary residency status.

The Prosperity Act, proposed by St. Paul Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members Rep. Carlos Mariani and Sen. Sandy Pappas, would have fewer requirements for students to increase the pool of undocumented students who would qualify for residency status and financial aid in the state.

“We applaud the governor’s efforts in this, and we know the DACA Minnesota bill does a lot for students in the community,” said Juventino Meza, program assistant at the Minneapolis advocacy group Citizen’s League. “However, we want to pass the Prosperity Act because it goes further than Gov. Dayton’s proposal.”

Some University campuses and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities  currently charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition, but several charge a flat rate for all students regardless of status.

Because the school charges higher tuition for out-of-state students, University spokesman Steve Henneberry said they must also charge undocumented students the same under a federal guideline.

The Prosperity Act requests the University adopt its own policy, but due to its autonomy, the school isn’t bound to comply with the act or the governor’s proposal.

Undocumented students at the University can’t receive state grants or private scholarships if the University doesn’t adopt a new policy.

The University would likely adopt a policy if one of the measures passes, Henneberry said.

“I would say that we’ll be ready to act on either of these proposals,” he said. “We are committed to accessibility and working with all students, and we will be ready to do that no matter which of these go forward.”

Louis Mendoza, associate vice provost for equity and diversity at the University, said the bill provides a long-awaited opportunity for the school.

“It actually makes it more possible for the alignment of the University’s interests and the state’s legal system,” Mendoza said. “The University’s stance has been pretty supportive, and this opens more opportunities to support non-citizen students.”

One of the requirements of the Prosperity Act is that students must sign an affidavit agreeing to apply for citizenship as soon as he or she is eligible.

According to The Pew Research Hispanic Center, almost two-thirds of legal immigrants from Mexico who are eligible to become citizens of the United States have not yet applied.

Currently, 12 other states have requirements like the ones proposed in the Prosperity Act and several other states have similar legislation pending.

Skeptics of the bill are concerned the expanded provisions for college affordability will encourage more people to illegally enter the U.S., and some argue that education grant funds will be stretched thin due to the increased demand.

Because fewer students would pay higher out-of-state tuition and more grants would go to students, the Prosperity Act is estimated to cost $9 million, according to Mariani, a number Pappas is unsatisfied with.

“We can actually challenge the assumptions of the fiscal notes, and [Pappas] has done that,” Mariani said. “The senator thinks that is way too high.”

No estimate has been released for Dayton’s plan.

Also included in Dayton’s budget is an $80 million increase in state higher education grant funding.

Some student groups at the University have announced support for measures to aid undocumented students, including the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

GAPSA announced its support for the federal DREAM Act in February in solidarity with an undocumented student member who was having trouble finding loans to continue his education at the University, said the group’s president Brittany Edwards.

Edwards said the group decided unanimously to support the act because members believe it fits with the stated mission of the University.

“With those values in mind as a University — diverse community, creating a global workforce — all of that is part of the [DREAM Act],” she said.

In past years, bills to expand the definition of residents for educational purposes have been largely unsuccessful, but Mariani said he’s confident the Prosperity Act has a chance this year.

“The bill we introduced here this year is really the next logical step,” he said. “We are acknowledging that undocumented students should have access to higher education.”