For the first time, tuition this fall is being offered and accepted by undocumented residents within the University of Wisconsin System after Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed into effect a change of law that allows undocumented residents to receive in-state tuition, making Wisconsin one of 11 states that support this.
The other 10 states that give illegal immigrants in-state tuition are California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Currently, the federal government has the right to punish states that provide in-state tuition to undocumented students by obligating those states to provide the same benefits as undocumented students to those who don’t live in the state, according to the terms of the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
However, the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act is currently before Congress, which would revoke that section of the law.
To receive the tuition, the students must first have lived in the state of Wisconsin for at least three years and graduated from a Wisconsin high school. The students must then sign a legal affidavit indicating they will seek residency in the near future, according to a statement.
“These are young students looking for opportunities to advance in their education, and it’s important for us to give them that opportunity, and in-state tuition helps this,” UW Board of Regents President Charles Pruitt said.
Because undocumented residents are unlikely to receive any financial aid when applying to UW schools, this new law greatly decreases the cost of attending college for the students. In-state tuition decreases the cost for students by more than half, which lowers the price at UW-Madison from $21,800 to $7,500 per year.
With 35 applicants, UW-Milwaukee had the most students applying for resident tuition this fall. The next closest was UW-Oshkosh with four, then UW-Madison with two students, and UW-Whitewater and UW-Stevens Point both had one.
Students who pay in-state tuition are effectively subsidized by the state. Therefore, while Wisconsin workers are in effect paying in part for the education of these undocumented residents through taxes, UW System spokesperson David Giroux does not see this extra cost to the state and workers as a cause of concern.
With a college degree, the long run hope is these students will be able to receive high paying jobs when entering the workforce, Giroux said.
He added higher paying jobs not only benefit the students themselves, but also the state as it receives more tax revenue off higher incomes.
“People who earn more pay more taxes and those revenues support universities and health care,” Giroux said. “To get more college degrees in our workforce and provide folks with educational opportunities is in our best interest when you consider the alternative.”
Because the number of undocumented students remains very small and in the single digit range for most schools, Giroux does not believe the loss of out of state tuition from these students will greatly affect the school. Pruitt agrees, saying passing this law only increases the number of students attending UW schools and does not displace anyone.