February 2, 2023

Bipartisan bill allows undocumented Indiana students pay resident tuition for college

Mari Luna and Wendy Catalan, left to right, of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance advocate for the passage of a bill to change the state's tuition law at the Statehouse during the 2022 legislative session.  - Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance / Instagram

Mari Luna and Wendy Catalan, left to right, of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance advocate for the passage of a bill to change the state's tuition law at the Statehouse during the 2022 legislative session.

Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance / Instagram

Students in Indiana without citizenship or permanent U.S. residency could finally pay the same tuition for state colleges and universities as classmates, instead of the much more expensive out-of-state or international rate.

Proposed bipartisan legislation would make it easier for undocumented students who complete their K-12 education in Indiana to access higher learning, said Sen. Blake Doriot (R-Goshen), one of three bill authors, instead of a future with scant opportunities.

“This problem has come to us, not from what the state of Indiana has done, but what the federal government has failed to do,” Doriot said Wednesday during the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. “We have not been able to get together and find a clear pathway to citizenship and we are addressing children, young adults who want to further themselves.”

In 2011, lawmakers passed a law that bars state colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to undocumented students. In the following years, the federal government did not pass comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals. 

This lack of action was cited as a reason by some Republican leaders in past legislative sessions for not taking action to address college access for undocumented and underdocumented students. 

But Senate Bill 135 now appears to have traction among members of both parties. Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) and Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger) are also authors. The Indiana Chamber, ACLU of Indiana, Ball State University and other state colleges are also backing it.

To qualify under the bill, a student must attend an Indiana high school for four years, and graduate with a diploma or earn an equivalent diploma in Indiana. An undocumented student must also submit an affidavit to the university or college they will attend stating their intent to become an American citizen when eligible. 

House Bill 1043, authored by Rep. Earl Harris (D-East Chicago), includes similar requirements. 

Rachel Santos, Indiana Latino Institute's director of education policy, said the reduced cost for higher education would expand opportunity for the state’s growing Latino and immigrant population. In 2020, 67 percent of Hispanic and Latino high school graduates came from a low-income household, according to the state’s College Equity Report.

“The pathway is clear,” Santos said during the Senate committee hearing. “States have the discretion to extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.”

The difference in resident and nonresident tuition and fee rates for full-time students range from $4,290 at Ivy Tech Community College to $27,672 Indiana University-Bloomington for the current academic year. 

Under the legislation, undocumented and underdocumented students are still not eligible for state financial aid programs or federal student aid such as Pell Grants.

The legislation focuses on students who do not qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

Currently, Indiana students approved for DACA can receive in-state tuition. As of last summer, there were 8,350 active DACA recipients in Indiana of which an estimated 1,250 recipients, or 15 percent, are enrolled in public or private colleges, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The Education and Career Development Committee is expected to vote on the bill Feb. 8.

Contact WFYI education editor Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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