August 30, 2017

Indiana Lawmakers Could Let Undocumented Students Pay In-State Tuition For College

Article origination IPBS-RJC
The House chamber of the Indiana Statehouse. - Shawna Pierson/flickr

The House chamber of the Indiana Statehouse.

Shawna Pierson/flickr

State lawmakers are discussing whether to change a 2011 law that prohibits young people brought into the country illegally from accessing in-state tuition at public colleges.

Already, some Republican and Democrat lawmakers are voicing support for the change.

Indiana is one of only three states in the country that specifically makes immigrant students who can not prove state residency or who don’t qualify for a federal program to pay the more expensive out-of-state tuition rate.

A legislative study committee began delving into the issue Wednesday. Only advocates for altering the law spoke at the two-hour meeting.

Angela Adams, an Indianapolis Immigration attorney, testified that there are an estimated 10,000 young Hoosier recipients of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. It provides some legal protections for the so-called “Dreamers” so they can remain in the country to attend college or work.

But not all Indiana colleges accept DACA status to offer in-state tuition, Adams says.

“A growing uneducated workforce results in a significant cost for the state,” Adams says. “It is in the best interest of everyone to keep increase access to higher education to all.”

The committee could recommend a change to the 2011 law for the General Assembly to consider next session. But what changes could be, if any, remain to be seen.

Some states require students to graduate from a public high school, instead of residency, to eligible for in-state tuition. Other states provide financial aid to undocumented students or allow them to qualify for in-state tuition.

During the hearing sisters Michelle and Atziri Flores testified about how they can’t afford Ivy Tech because they are undocumented and don’t qualify for DACA. The 18-year-olds graduated from Wayne Township’s Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis this past May.

Both want to be educators.

“We’ve been working hard all throughout high school and having in-state tuition would allow us to continue on our path to becoming teachers so we can contribute to our community,” says Michelle Flores.

Even though Ivy Tech’s tuition is around $100 more per credit for out-of-state students, the sisters say that makes it out of reach for them. Ivy Tech offers in-state tuition to DACA students.

Republican Rep. Tony Cook says he would favor changing the law to help people like the Flores sisters. Cook, a former educator, says he’s known students in their situation.

“I think it would be a gross mistake now not to make some adjustments in this law.”

Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, also backed making changes to the law.

But some lawmakers, including Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen, said they need to better understand the federal laws.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do until I can figure out how these (student’s) stories fit on the rule of law,” Jordan says.

The law was approved by former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Daniels, now president of Purdue University, has joined other higher education leaders in signing a letter in support of DACA.

President Donald Trump has said he may not renew DACA or make significant changes to the program. He is expected to make a decision in September.

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