Paying for their status: undocumented immigrant students and college access
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During the last two decades the United States has undergone a dramatic demographic transformation chiefly due to increasing immigration. This change has been registered in school districts across the nation, where children of immigrant stock represent twenty percent of students and are expected to become thirty percent of the student body by 2015 (Fix and Passel, 2003). A significant portion of this historic immigration largely from Latin America, Asia and Africa has been denied legal status and therefore access to a number of areas of society, including higher education. While the Supreme Court has recognized a right to primary and secondary education for undocumented students, they face considerable barriers to higher education based on their race, class, language ability, unfavorable high school academic tracking and placement and immigration status. Those undocumented students who are able to surmount these obstacles find that most universities across the United States use their immigration status to selectively charge them non-resident or international tuition fees (three times in-state fees). This effectively bars most of them from attending college. However, as of this writing nine states have adopted legislation to enable certain undocumented state residents to attend state colleges at the normal instate tuition. This dissertation is a policy analysis that largely focuses on various legislative initiatives, which have allowed undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state tuition fees and, in some cases, receive state financial aid. The research focuses on Texas as the first state to pass an in-state tuition policy and it gives particular attention to the role of that state in policy innovation along with its national implications. The impact of this policy at the federal level is addressed by reviewing proposed legislation that would enable certain students to obtain legal immigration status. The significance of this research is based on the fact that these policies not only respond to changing demographics but they also, for the first time, open the college door to populations which have been traditionally excluded from institutions of post secondary education.