State University in Denver Stands Up for Undocumented Youth

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Metropolitan State University is taking a bold step by allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates in defiance of Colorado law. Currently 13 states allow in-state tuition for undocumented students, while six, including Colorado, expressly prohibit it. MSU is offering in-state tuition only to undocumented students who have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years, graduated from a Colorado high school or received a GED in the state, and are in good legal standing aside from their undocumented status.

This decision was made despite the Colorado legislature’s failure to pass the ASSET bill, which contained provisions similar to MSU’s plan for all Colorado institutions, and will assist DREAMer students eligible for deferred action  status. The tuition for eligible students will be $3,358.30 per semester, rather than the out-of-state rate of $7,992.

MSU’s tuition plan will function in concert with the Obama Administration’s deferred action program. Deferred action status is available to undocumented youth who arrived in the United States before they were 16 and who meet other education and residency requirements. This classification prevents up to roughly 1.8 million undocumented youth from being deported for two years with an option to renew their status, enabling them to work legally in the United States and obtain such government-issued identification as driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers.

Undocumented students who take advantage of this tuition plan and the federal offer of deferred action remain vulnerable to deportation in the future, however. Neither of these options is codified into law, and both are subject to reversal by future administrations at the college and in the federal government. These brave students will take a risk by identifying themselves and their families as undocumented, demonstrating their strong commitment to higher education.

According to a survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 53.6% of responding universities knowingly admit undocumented students. Yet despite the possibility of admission, many undocumented students don’t even apply for fear of risking deportation or because they cannot afford steep tuition costs. The Urban Institute estimates that each year 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school. Yet among undocumented high school graduates (ages 18-24), the Pew Hispanic Center found that over half do not go on to attend college, compared with 30 percent of native graduates. With in-state tuition eligibility and the hope of finding a job with their new degree, more of these hard-working students may have the opportunity and incentive to pursue higher education through MSU’s new program. Amidst important conversations regarding college accessibility and affordability, we cannot forget undocumented youth who know no other home than the United States and deserve the opportunity to pursue a better future.

—Clarise McCants and Nicole Tortoriello