This month we celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Coalition for Tuition Equality and reflect upon all that we have accomplished. Two years ago, student leaders recognized an injustice at the University of Michigan in its policies toward undocumented students. Consequently, student organizations from across campus came together to fight for a more accessible and representative University, demanding changes in University policy and campus culture. At the heart of this goal was achieving tuition equality — reforming University tuition policy to allow undocumented Michigan students to pay in-state tuition. And, finally, in July, we made history when the Board of Regents, responding to the voices of the University community, voted to extend in-state tuition to undocumented students who attend three years of and graduate from high school after two years of middle school in Michigan.
With the passage of tuition equality, the University of Michigan has spearheaded a statewide movement. One week after the University, Washtenaw Community College passed its own version of tuition equality. Less than a month ago, the Wayne State University Board of Governors made the incredible step of passing tuition equality as well. These bold actions have opened doors to a college education for undocumented students across the state.
With our successes and the successes of other campuses, it may seem to many that our work is finally done. However, while it’s true that the University has made considerable progress since our founding, such an assumption speaks to the lack of understanding and acceptance that undocumented students still face. This leads us to our continued mission for the year: to work with the administration and the community to raise awareness of the University’s new policies, secure financial aid for undocumented students and create a more welcoming campus environment.
While the passage of tuition equality has become common knowledge on campus, the community to which this issue is most important remains less informed. We look forward to working with undocumented communities throughout Southeast Michigan to raise awareness of the new guidelines and encourage undocumented students to apply to the University of Michigan. Furthermore, our support will not end with awareness: We’re committed to helping undocumented students navigate the application process, recognizing the complications that a lack of documentation can present.
However, undocumented students’ challenges don’t end with the application process. Tuition remains unequal, as undocumented students still must pay more than their peers. Unable to qualify for federal loans, undocumented students must pay out-of-pocket or rely on the scarce private aid that is available to them. With an average household income of $36,000 per year, the in-state cost of attendance of $26,240 remains out of reach for most undocumented students who lack financial assistance. It’s an obligation of the University to meet the demonstrated financial need of undocumented students. With an upcoming capital campaign and recent record-breaking donations, we’ll work to urge the University to direct funds towards the students who need it most.
Undocumented immigrants face constant discrimination and marginalization throughout the country. With a history of such treatment at the University of Michigan, to many, our campus represents yet another oppressive environment. We’re dedicated to changing this climate, and that process begins with the administration. The University has a responsibility to ensure that undocumented students are treated no differently than their peers. This requires employee training, safe spaces on campus, the provision of student legal services and psychological services, and access to University Health Services. It’s our responsibility to raise the consciousness of undocumented students’ unique needs on campus and ensure that the administration recognizes them.
We’re proud to have accomplished so much in our two-year history. That we have come so far is a testament to the power of student voices and the compelling nature of this cause. However, our work is far from over. The new guidelines for qualifying for in-state tuition take effect in January. Thus, it’s with great urgency that we call on the University to work with us in removing these additional barriers to undocumented students.
John D’Adamo is an LSA senior. Daniel Morales is a Public Policy junior. Meg Scribner is an LSA juniors. All three are leaders of the Coalition for Tuition Equality.