After two years of lobbying for in-state tuition equality at the University, the Coalition for Tuition Equality may find its efforts answered at the state level.
Tuesday, state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) proposed House Bill 4617, a measure to promote economic growth through education investment that calls for public universities to extend in-state tuition equality to undocumented students.
If passed, the bill would require Michigan colleges and universities to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students who intend to achieve citizenship. Eligible students would be state residents who qualify under a federal policy that defers action on deportation proceedings to those who immigrated during childhood and are currently attaining an education or participating in military service.
“I think it’s good state policy to try to keep those people here in Michigan, giving them opportunity to contribute to our economy and communities,” Irwin said.
The bill was introduced on the House floor along with a package of four other bills pertaining to state immigration policy, including a bill that would allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses.
While Irwin said the legislation has a fair amount of support, he recognizes the bill will face scrutiny on the floor.
“I’m not blind to the challenge of passing any bill that is positive for the immigrant community,” Irwin said.
Many critics have discounted tuition equality, arguing undocumented families do not contribute income taxes to the state, which are the main reason state residents pay a lower tuition rate than out-of-state students.
However, Irwin said these claims lack validity, noting that undocumented immigrants pay sales and property taxes. He also added that most pay state income taxes as well.
Irwin said legislative assaults on University policies and practices such as benefits for domestic partnerships, stem cell research and most recently, negotiating labor contracts, before the implementation of these policies could have potential implications for tuition equality at universities.
But were tuition equality to be written into state law, Irwin said Republican legislators could not threaten universities for granting in-state tuition to undocumented students.
However, if tuition equality was not passed in the Michigan House of Representatives, the University Regents could still grant in-state tuition to undocumented students independent of state-wide policy.
Regardless of the bill’s progress, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University will continue to move ahead with discussing the issue.
Irwin commended University stakeholders and the Board of Regents for taking tuition equality seriously.
“I’m hopeful they will make a decision in line with the interests of the state,” Irwin said.
CTE protested the issue last week in an effort to persuade the University’s Board of Regents to enact tuition equality. At the board’s April 2013 meeting, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she plans to make a “positive recommendation” to the board after reviewing their report detailing the benefits and drawbacks of tuition equity.
Public Policy senior Kevin Mersol-Barg, CTE founder and former Daily columnist, said CTE has been in contact with Irwin about the issue for a while. He added that Irwin has encouraged CTE’s efforts and wrote a letter of support to the organization.
Mersol-Barg was invited to speak on behalf of CTE at the press conference Tuesday.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to connect the work that I’ve done and that CTE has done on campus to the broader issue on the statewide level,” he said. “We’re really recognizing that this isn’t just a U of M specific issue; this is a Michigan issue.”