After a year of protests and rallies, the Coalition for Tuition Equality, a student organization that advocates for the in-state tuition rate for undocumented students who have lived in Michigan, has made another tangible mark of progress: a web page on the University’s Office of Financial Aid website that offers information to prospective and current undocumented students.

The site, launched earlier this month, was developed, in part, based on a recommendation from a report developed by a joint task force of students which was presented to the University’s Board of Regents in March.

University Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the site was developed because of the number of inquiries from prospective undocumented students.

“Quite frankly we realized that we didn’t have this information specifically for those students and those who helped those students apply for college on our website,” Fitzgerald said.

The site provides resources to undocumented students by offering contacts within the Office of Admissions and Office of Financial Aid and directing students to outside groups — such as the National Immigration Law Center — that can support their application to and enrollment in the University.

While the site encourages the application of undocumented immigrants, it acknowledges that the University does not offer any specific financial aid programs to these applicants.

Undocumented students are not able to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid without a social security number and are therefore ineligible for federal financial aid and centrally awarded University financial aid.

Fitzgerald said the University acknowledged the difficulty of clearing this financial hurdle for undocumented students.

“There are other private scholarships, some scholarships in individual schools and colleges that don’t require the use of the FASFA form but … most financial aid requires FAFSA,” he said. “That is a tough burden to overcome.”

Fitzgerald added that the process of applying to the University and receiving financial aid were two separate processes. Application to the University does not require proof of citizenship while receiving financial aid does.

University alum Kevin Mersol-Barg, one of the founders of CTE, said while he is appreciative of the website, more needs to be done.

“CTE is really happy to see that the University has taken the first step to provide a more welcoming environment for undocumented students and prospective undocumented students,” Mersol-Barg said. “However we believe that the University has much more work to do in terms of increasing access for undocumented students.”

Mersol-Barg added that CTE appreciated that, on the site, the University was forthright about the “grave financial hurdles” that undocumented students face.

He said he has so far been disappointed with the outcome of the task force report.

“There has been an utter lack of transparency in terms of progress that has been made in terms of their deliberations and what we can expect in terms of timeline and where the University will ultimately stand on the issue,” Mersol-Berg said.

In the meantime, Mersol-Berg said CTE will continue to be active in protests, including a presence at the May 16th regents meeting, and will find it “utterly unacceptable if progress has not been made come September.”

Fitzgerald said the website does not represent a shift in University policy regarding tuition equality. He said any shift in policy would come after University President Mary Sue Coleman and other top administrators reviewed the task force report submitted to the regents in March.

“There has been no change in our policy at this point but certainly folks at the highest levels of the University administration have been looking very carefully at that task force report,” he said. “(We are) trying to determine what the next step for the University might be.”

Fitzgerald said the University would continue work on the issue over the summer.

“It is a complicated problem that we are looking very closely at and that is what we will continue to work on,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody expects that they will be moving ahead as quickly as they possibly can.”

Even if the University administration makes a positive recommendation to the Regents, the issue is still legally and politically complicated. Although the Regents can determine tuition rates autonomous of the state, there is still the possibility of injunctive lawsuits to reverse any decision by the Regents.

However, the argument for tuition equality received political support in April, when state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) proposed House Bill 4617, which calls for public universities to extend in-state tuition equality to undocumented students.

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