Immigrants and Tuition
Texas and California lawmakers recently decided to allow undocumented immigrants to pay lower, in-state tuition for college. But New York City has moved in the opposite direction.
City University of New York officials say they will raise tuition for such students in order to comply with a federal immigration law that they contend doesn’t allow undocumented immigrants to be given preferential treatment over out-of-state students.
The 198,000-student university system announced the decision Nov. 2 in a memorandum sent to trustees, campus presidents, and other administrators after the system’s general counsel conducted a policy review sparked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
CUNY now charges undocumented immigrants at the lower, in-state tuition rate if they have lived in New York state for at least 12 months or have attended high school in the state for at least two semesters. Next semester, which begins in late January, those students will be required to pay the higher, out-of-state tuition.
State residents pay $1,250 per semester at CUNY’s two-year community colleges and $1,600 per semester at its four-year colleges. Out-of-state students pay $1,538 at the community colleges and $3,400 at the four-year colleges.
“Our general counsel is of the opinion that the law is clear,” said Michael Arena, CUNY’s director of media relations.
But Michael A. Olivas, a University of Houston law professor and the director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance, said CUNY has made a significant mistake.
“They simply got it wrong,” he argued. “There is no way that statute says what they say it does. CUNY for a long time stood for a particular ethos, and this is an abandonment of that ethos,” he said, referring to the system’s traditional role in serving students who might otherwise be denied a college education.
California Gov. Gray Davis signed a law Oct. 11 that allows undocumented immigrants who graduate from California high schools to pay in-state college tuition. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill in June that made Texas the first state to offer undocumented immigrants in-state tuition. (“Undocumented Grads to Get Tuition Breaks From Calif. Institutions,” Oct. 31, 2001.)
Several members of Congress have introduced legislation that would grant new legal status to undocumented immigrants as long as they are in school or pursuing a postsecondary education.
—John Gehring firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2001 edition of Education Week