Imagine you were brought to the United States as an infant or a young child. You studied and worked hard while attending American schools and learned to read and write in English along with your peers. Like them, this country is the only home you know, and you may not even know you’re undocumented until it’s time to apply to college.
Now, imagine reading an acceptance letter to the college of your dreams, only to realize your undocumented status disqualifies you from in-state tuition, making it nearly impossible to afford college.
Nineteen states, including Washington and Colorado, have already passed laws banning discrimination against undocumented students when it comes to in-state tuition. These states treat these defacto Americans the same as their friends and classmates, but unfortunately, students in 31 other states are still forced to pay expensive, out-of-state tuition to attend their own state universities.
In many cases, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is the difference between attending college or foregoing higher education and moving straight into the workforce. On average, in-state tuition at public, four-year colleges is $8,893, far less than the average out-of-state tuition rate of $22,203. So, despite the proven, long-term economic benefits of a college degree, the up-front costs of out-of-state tuition are often too much to bear.
We believe all qualified students should have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education, regardless of their immigration status. That’s why this week, we are introducing the Investing in States To Achieve Tuition Equity (IN-STATE) Act of 2014, which provides incentives for states to offer in-state tuition and need-based aid for DREAMers. The bill creates the American Dream Grant program, offering $750 million in need-based student financial aid to states that set equitable in-state tuition rates and offer financial aid to undocumented students.
Over the last decade, the cost of a college degree has skyrocketed, and average annual costs at public colleges and universities have increased by more than 100 percent. The American Dream Grants established by our legislation would supplement existing state financial aid funding for all students and help ensure that states continue to invest in their higher education systems and pass along cost savings to students.
In addition to the difference that affordable tuition makes for students, we’ve already seen that states benefit from equitable tuition policies, too. By allowing all qualified students to access higher education, states can invest in thousands of additional students every year who are able to pursue their dreams, start a career, and contribute to their local economies.
Supporting undocumented students is only part of the solution to fixing our broken immigration system, but until Congress provides a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants living in the shadows, we owe undocumented students a fair chance to succeed.
Murray is the senior senator from Washington, serving since 1993. She is chairman of the Budget Committee and also sits on the Appropriations; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; the Rules and Administration; and the Veterans Affairs committees. Polis has represented Colorado's 2nd Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Education and the Workforce and the Rules committees.