While the University has sought to cultivate a diverse, welcoming student body, the enrollment of in-state students and underrepresented minorities has fallen in recent years. To demonstrate its commitment to the reversal of this trend, the University must end its policy of charging higher tuition to undocumented students. Though qualified undocumented immigrants graduate from Michigan high schools every year, they are required to pay out-of-state tuition, and thus pay more than $25,000 extra per year in tuition than their fellow classmates in Michigan. Tomorrow, the Central Student Government will vote on a resolution that could potentially improve undocumented students’ access to the University of Michigan. The Undergraduate Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the University, along with the newly formed Coalition for Tuition Equality, urges CSG to approve this resolution.
Undocumented students from foreign countries have either entered the country without authorization, or had authorization but stayed past its expiration. They typically move to the U.S. with family members at a young age, so they do not make the choice to immigrate. There are an estimated 21,000 undocumented youth who call Michigan home.
Like U.S. citizens and permanent residents, undocumented immigrants pay Michigan income and sales taxes, which help fund this University. However, undocumented students are denied in-state tuition despite their academic achievements and their parents’ substantial contributions to the state of Michigan and its communities.
Undocumented students are guaranteed a public K-12 education, but upon graduation, they are barred from receiving federal financial aid. In-state tuition, at $12,634 per year for freshmen and sophomores, is burdensome for most Michigan families, but out-of-state tuition, at $37,782 per year, is more than the typical annual income of undocumented families. The sum of out-of-state tuition and living expenses, combined with a lack of financial aid and access to student loans, prevents undocumented students from attending, or even applying to, the University of Michigan.
The lack of higher education options for Michigan’s undocumented youth threatens their social and economic mobility. Recognizing this injustice, concerned student organizations, including the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, the ACLU, Migrant and Immigrant Rights Advocacy, Human Rights Through Education, and the Peace and Justice Commission banded together to form the Coalition for Tuition Equality. The Coalition defined tuition equality as in-state tuition to undocumented students and for improvements in affordability of tuition for all students ⎯ especially those who are undocumented. The Coalition for Tuition Equality believes that access to higher education should be a right, as is K-12 education, and not a privilege.
While public universities are barred under federal law from providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, the Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case regarding California’s in-state tuition policy, effectively enabling states to base policies on high school graduation instead of legal residency. Twelve states have approved in-state tuition for undocumented students, and efforts are underway across the country. The similarly motivated DREAM Act seeks to grant citizenship to undocumented students, but additional policies are necessary to improve the affordability of higher education. In conjunction with the passage of the DREAM Act, in-state tuition policies will improve employment opportunities for Michigan’s undocumented youth.
In Michigan, each public university determines its tuition policy, so this decision hinges on the University’s Board of Regents. The University’s residency policies are notoriously strict, and graduation from a Michigan high school does not necessarily qualify one for in-state tuition. We believe that undocumented students who meet other residency guidelines should be considered for in-state tuition. Granting in-state tuition to undocumented students will demonstrate the University’s continued commitment to diversity and social justice.
Michigan’s residency policy effectively bars talented, qualified Michigan high school graduates from attending the University on the basis of their immigration status. Central Student Government should pass our resolution to demonstrate that Michigan students stand for tuition equality and believe undocumented students deserve the opportunity to become Michigan Wolverines.
Ellen Steele is chair of the ACLU-University of Michigan Undergraduate Chapter. She is an LSA senior.