More states granting in-state tuition to immigrants

BY Elisabeth Ponsot  February 1, 2014 at 12:52 PM EST
Immigration reform supporters leave the Senate chamber in the Capitol after watching passage of the Senate immigration reform bill on Thursday, June 27, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Supporters of immigration reforms leave the Senate chamber in the Capitol. Proponents of immigrant rights are lobbying state governments across the country to allow students lacking legal immigration status to qualify for in-state tuition and state financial aid. Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

In September, PBS NewsHour Weekend reported the story of one aspiring college student, Cynthia Cruz, who was born in Mexico but had lived in the United States since she was a baby. After graduating from a New Jersey high school, she enrolled at Rutgers, but was soon forced to drop out when she ran out of money.

Lacking legal immigration status, Ms. Cruz did not qualify for in-state tuition at Rutgers and was unable to receive financial aid from the state.

Ms. Cruz’s situation changed recently in the state of New Jersey, when Gov. Chris Christie signed a law to allow students who came to the U.S. when they were minors to pay in-state tuition.

Critics of the legislation say in-state tuition discounts at state colleges and universities are a privilege that should be reserved for students who are U.S. citizens.

15 states now have statutes on the books that allow students who have lived in the state for a set number of years, but who lack legal immigration status, to pay in-state tuition.

Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Virginia are considering similar bills.

University boards in Hawaii, Michigan and Rhode Island have acted independently to qualify these students for in-state tuition.

States like California, New Mexico and Texas have gone a step further, with laws on the books that allow these students to be eligible for state financial aid, including scholarships and grants.

Should students who lack immigration status in the United States be allowed to qualify for in-state tuition discounts? Correspondent Rick Karr explores the issue in this PBS NewsHour Weekend report from September.

Related: Pursuing higher education without a social security number