Mark Bernstein, a newly elected member of the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents, campaigned on the slogan “Make College Affordable.” However, for some students who’ve lived in Michigan the majority of their lives, affordable University tuition is a foreign concept. The University is denying in-state tuition to undocumented students who know Michigan as their home and have graduated from the state’s high schools. After earning admission by merit, the steep price of out-of-state tuition, which is nearly $25,000 more per year than the tuition paid by in-state admits, effectively prohibits potential students from accessing the higher education they deserve.
The University prides itself in enrolling the leaders and the best. However, its residency policy says otherwise. The UM American Civil Liberties Union Undergraduate Chapter seeks to reform this disturbing policy. The ACLU strongly supports the efforts of the Coalition for Tuition Equality and its efforts to advocate fair tuition practices for all students.
An undocumented student is typically brought to the United States at a young age with his or her parents and played no part in his family’s choice to immigrate. Michigan is where these students have grown up and where they call home. In total, there are currently an estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Undocumented immigrants represent a diverse section of the American population. They come from all parts of the world, frequently to flee oppression or economic hardship and explore the opportunities presented in America. Yet the University’s tuition policies are barriers that prevent undocumented Americans from realizing their dreams.
In most senses, undocumented Michigan residents are faced with the same set of governmental obligations as any other Michigan resident. They are subject to the same laws, send their children to the same schools and pay the same taxes that all Michigan residents pay. In 2010, according to the Service Employees International Union, state and local taxes paid by families headed by undocumented immigrants totaled $141,662,286 in Michigan. Their taxes, in part, finance the University, yet out-of-state tuition prevents them from benefitting fairly from those taxes.
In a legal brief supporting the DREAM Act, federal legislation that remains in political limbo, the ACLU cites tuition equality as an effective policy to help undocumented Americans contribute productively to the American economy. The brief applauds states that have adopted tuition equality and asserts, “… a well-educated population leads to increased earning power which then generates higher income, sales, and property taxes. This in turn stimulates economic growth for all participants in the states’ economies, while increasing the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy.” The benefits of tuition equality extend beyond deserving undocumented students to society as a whole by producing a well-educated, productive and highly skilled workforce.
In 2010, the California Supreme Court upheld a widely adopted form of tuition equality, which requires qualifying students to attend a California high school for at least three years. California adopted tuition equality in 2001. Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Utah and Washington are in another group of 12 states with similar provisions. The University needs to adopt tuition equality to ensure that these talented, undocumented students have equal access to the higher education they deserve.
The ACLU Undergraduate Chapter of the University of Michigan is a partner in the Coalition for Tuition Equality — a collection of student organizations on campus that fight for in-state tuition for undocumented students. We believe that tuition equality is a fundamental right that the University of Michigan is denying undocumented Michigan residents. To get involved in CTE, you can attend the rally for tuition equality this Thursday, Dec. 13 at 3:30 p.m. in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union.
I’m proud to attend a college that is so vocal for its promotion of diversity and social justice on campus. We must continue to push for what is fair, what is right, and what is just. Tuition equality will bring the University closer to providing students who merit admission an equal opportunity for a bright future.
Connor Caplis is an LSA sophomore.