As the cost of obtaining a college degree increases each year, higher education becomes a less realistic goal for those from lower income families or families hesitant to accumulate debt. As a result, diversity at the University continues to exist increasingly only in rhetoric. While many steps must be taken to attract and retain students from all walks of life, the University is currently examining whether to charge in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants residing in Michigan. Charging out-of-state tuition for undocumented Michigan public school graduates hinders students who worked hard to be accepted to the University. The University’s Board of Regents should make this issue a priority and enforce tuition equality to increase student diversity and maintain focus on education, not politics.
At the request of Regent Julia Darlow (D–Ann Arbor), Provost Philip Hanlon is assembling a report on tuition equality for undocumented students for the board’s consideration. Members of the Coalition for Tuition Equality, a student-led alliance aiming to bring students and student organizations together in support of tuition equality, have spoken at the regents’ monthly meetings about the circumstances undocumented students face at the University. The group hopes the University will change its policy and allow undocumented immigrants who have graduated from Michigan high schools to pay in-state tuition.
The University should enact this change to open doors for a more racially and socio-economically diverse student body. The University prides itself on its diversity — experience with diversity is raised as early the admissions application — but as demonstrated by recent incoming freshman classes, the University can be doing much more, especially in terms of socio-economic diversity. Recent reports have shown that 79 percent of college enrolled students are in the highest income bracket, but only 34 percent are in the lowest. Lowering tuition would allow for more high-achieving undocumented immigrants to enroll in the University, and increase representation for a large but often ignored sector of the population.
Since CTE’s founding this year by Public Policy junior Kevin Mersol-Barg, the organization has made impressive progress, as evidence by Hanlon’s upcoming report. CTE has successfully brought a wide array of student organizations into the conversation on tuition equality. It’s apparent there is campus support for a policy change, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Many undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. by no fault of their own and face daily difficulties due to their immigration status. Barring those students from a more affordable education increases their hardship. Other Michigan universities, including Western Michigan University and Wayne State University, have policies that allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state rates. The University is in a clear position to be an advocate for education.
Congress hasn’t passed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented minors after living in the country for five years, since its introduction in 2001. Because of this lack of federal action, the University is obligated to support education and student diversity by enacting tuition equality.
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the founders of the Coalition for Tuition Equality