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Currently, a student must enroll at the University of Michigan within 28 months of graduating high school or obtaining a GED certificate to qualify for in-state tuition. Effective fall 2020, the time limit will be extended to 40 months for newly enrolling students, the University announced on July 18.
The change was approved by the Board of Regents at their July meeting after review of “sufficient evidence” demonstrating differences in timing of application submission and enrollment across different demographics. The new policy aligns with Michigan State University and Oakland University.
For community college attendees, underrepresented minorities, first-generation students and low-income students, the median time from high school graduation to university enrollment ranged from 28 to 44 months, according to Kedra Ishop, vice provost for enrollment management.
“We need to make sure that we maintain reasonable access for those who need to stop along the way, for instance to work, but who continue to achieve and are great candidates for U-M,” Ishop said.
LSA junior Monica Olszewski, secretary of First-Generation College Students @ Michigan, expressed excitement for the extension. She said the change will help first-generation students who may need time after high school graduation to plan and arrange finances.
“With the longer time period, we could better organize ourselves, work to pay for college, think of a payment plan, decide if we really want to go to a four-year university,” Olszewski said.
The enrollment time limit is part of the attendance pathway for students with a non-traditional route to higher education — like those who take time off after high school or transfer from a community college — to be classified as in-state. This route was approved by the board in 2013 following advocacy by the Coalition for Tuition Equality, which demanded tuition equality for undocumented students.
Under the attendance pathway, students must have attended a Michigan high school for at least three years, attended a Michigan middle or junior high school for the two years prior to high school and graduated from a Michigan high school or received a Michigan GED. Students do not need to be a legal resident of Michigan or the United States.
The extension addresses one of the four requests of the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment, a student organization serving undocumented students and students under the DACA program on campus.
At their first public meeting in March, SCOPE discussed the importance of the in-state tuition time limit for undocumented students, who often do not enroll in a four-year university immediately upon high school graduation. SCOPE members also spoke at the March board meeting urging University administration to change the attendance pathway policy.
Without in-state tuition, a four-year university would be unaffordable for many undocumented and DACA-recipient students, who are not eligible for federal financial aid, LSA junior Sandra Perez explained.
With the announcement of the new time limit, SCOPE members said they are excited and hopeful the extension will help future students attend the University. However, Perez said she had “mixed feelings” about the policy overall, as current students will not be covered.
Students must have graduated high school in or after 2017 — 40 months before fall 2020, when the new policy will be in effect — to qualify for in-state tuition. However, Perez noted some SCOPE members who want to apply for in-state eligibility graduated before then and must continue to pay international tuition, which they struggle to afford.
“The students who started this movement are basically being told to leave,” Perez said.
One of those students is Taubman senior Juan Muñoz-Ponce, a DACA recipient and a first-generation college student. Muñoz-Ponce enrolled at the University 60 months after graduating from high school, as he first attended community college while also working. After receiving his acceptance into the University, Muñoz-Ponce realized most of his credits did not transfer, so he had to stay at the community college for an extra year to transfer into the Taubman program.
Though Muñoz-Ponce could have transferred earlier, he decided against it when President Donald Trump threatened to end DACA in 2017. He explained his desire to graduate with an associate’s degree in case he was deported.
Muñoz-Ponce’s appeal for in-state tuition was denied after he had already finished a semester of classes, leaving Muñoz-Ponce in debt to the University.
“As of now, my education is on a complete hold, not knowing whether I can transfer to another school or stay here and finish,” Muñoz-Ponce said. “We hoped this policy was going to do something about that, but apparently it’s not.”
With his transcript and student account on hold, and another semester quickly approaching, Muñoz-Ponce is unsure of his future at the University.
“I’ve been in Michigan since I was four, but I’m still being considered out-of-state,” Muñoz-Ponce said. “I just want to finish my education.”
SCOPE members have previously shared issues they see regarding the transparency of the University’s in-state tuition appeals process. University alum Daniel Lopez, who successfully appealed when he was a student, said he remains concerned as it is unclear to SCOPE why the appeals committee rejects some cases and not others.
Since he does not want to have to go through the appeals process again, Lopez said he has decided against attending the University for a graduate degree.
“They don’t give us a clear answer as to why people are being denied,” Lopez said. “If we have at least some answers, we can help future students too.”
SCOPE members shared they had faced similar issues of transparency and communication while working with University administrators on extending the attendance pathway enrollment time limit. After an initial meeting with University staff, who promised they would be working collaboratively on the issue, SCOPE said the University did not include them in policy discussions.
“They were supposed to work with us through this entire process so that we could find the best solution,” Lopez said. “But they disappeared on us, and we just lost contact. We reached out, they never got back to us. Next thing we know, there’s a policy in place.”
If the University had sought their input, Perez said SCOPE would have pointed administration to Grand Valley State University’s policy, which has a time limit of 28 months after high school or community college graduation. Perez said she believes this policy is more inclusive.
Muñoz said he learned about the new policy when one of his professors sent him an email about it. Similarly, Perez said other SCOPE members became aware of the extension only after it was published.
All three said they believe their experience working with University administration reflects a greater need for transparency and for understanding of undocumented student needs on campus. They pointed to the lack of information about undocumented student resources in outreach programs, orientation programs, career services and academic advising.
“We know this isn’t an issue that affects a lot of students, but we are students, and it would be nice if University staff and faculty were at least trained on what we are to be able to at least point us to the right resources,” Muñoz said.
With this in mind, SCOPE members said they hope the University will better advertise the extension of the attendance pathway time limit.
“We really hope they put this policy out there, so other students become aware of it before they run into a situation like mine,” Muñoz said.
Lopez noted the University's efforts in inclusion, stating he believes the University has the responsibility to be engaged in the needs of all students.
“If you want to be an inclusive school, you have to ensure all students are being provided with the right information,” Lopez said.