College officials respond to calls for tuition equity

BY News Desk  September 28, 2013 at 4:00 PM EST

Sunday’s broadcast piece on tuition equity looks at proposed legislation to allow undocumented students to benefit from in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities in New Jersey.

Earlier this year, several officials from Rutgers University — where the story takes place — released statements on their views regarding tuition equity and immigration reform.

In an open letter to the university’s student-run newspaper, Rutgers President, Robert L. Barchi, emphasized the federal government’s role in helping to make college more affordable for young undocumented immigrants.

“State legislation alone will not address the broader issues for undocumented students and for undocumented residents,” he said.

Comprehensive immigration reform requires federal action. I wrote to New Jersey’s congressional delegation earlier this year to highlight the importance of bipartisan efforts to address effective immigration reform, in particular a legislative proposal commonly known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act [the DREAM Act], which, among other things, remedies a section from the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that has been interpreted to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition at public universities based solely on a person’s residency…

That same month, Barchi wrote a column for The Star-Ledger, in which he wrote:

“The best approach would be to embrace and enact the proposed federal reforms, including the DREAM Act, and not be forced into clumsy state-by-state solutions.”

A month earlier, Rutgers Vice President of Public Affairs, Peter McDonough, and Alex Perez, Assistant General Counsel for the university, also expressed their support for more federal legislation in immigration reform and tuition equity.

Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level is essential if New Jersey’s colleges and universities are to be able to provide in-state tuition rates to undocumented students and not create a whole new set of problems by creating a broad new definition of what is required to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

McDonough and Perez further explained the problems that may arise from new state legislation on these issues:

.. Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 mandates that states that provide a higher education benefit based on residency — like in-state tuition rates — to undocumented immigrants, must provide the same benefit to U.S. citizens in the same circumstances, regardless of their state of residence.

What that means is that American colleges and universities that provide in-state tuition rates to undocumented students based on residency must provide in-state tuition rates to all students, regardless of where they live. This provision is known as the ‘Section 505 Penalty.’

In order to circumvent the problem, several states have crafted laws that provide in-state benefits to undocumented students by changing the definition of those qualified for in-state tuition rates to include all students who have attended and graduated from high school in those states…

But this approach is fraught with problems and unintended consequences. While rightly trying to address the plight of undocumented students, this approach actually opens the door for any person — regardless of where they actually live, work or pay taxes — to be entitled to in-state graduate or undergraduate tuition rates for the rest of their lives, as long as they went to and graduated from the appropriate high school.

McDonough and Perez suggest that the solution to making college more affordable for undocumented students is to eliminate Section 505, which, they say, “is one of the many things that the DREAM Act does.