Repeal ban on in-state tuition for undocumented students

So much bad stuff happened in the 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly that it was hard to keep up. Truly egregious legislation was passed and signed into law without much attention.

Case in point: House Enrolled Act 1402, a simple law with only the following language: “An individual who is not lawfully present in the United States is not eligible to pay the resident tuition rate that is determined by the state educational institution.”

A companion measure, Senate Enrolled Act 590, included a ban on local or state government making “a postsecondary education award, including a scholarship, a grant, or financial aid,” to undocumented students.

The laws are still on the books. It’s way past time to repeal them.

With the legislation, Indiana’s elected officials made it all but impossible for young people who are undocumented to pay for a college education in this state. If they attend a state college or university, they are charged nonresident tuition. They can’t receive need-based financial aid from the state.

The cost of attending Indiana University as an out-of-state student is nearly $50,000 per year. At Purdue, the figure is $46,000. That’s $200,000 over four years – assuming students can graduate in four years, a challenge for those who need to work while attending school.

Even at Ivy Tech Community College, the cost of attending full-time as a non-Indiana resident is nearly $20,000 a year, a figure that’s out of the reach for working families.

Forcing Indiana residents who are undocumented to pay out-of-state costs and denying them financial aid serves no public-policy purpose. It’s arguably a hate law, approved for the sole purpose of punishing young people for their immigration status.

And the people being punished, even if you argue that they are here illegally, never chose to break the law. The “dreamers” who were granted temporary legal status by the Obama administration, they were brought here by their families. Many haven’t known a home other than Indiana.

This may seem like a higher-education issue, but it’s more than that. Twelve percent of students in Indiana K-12 public schools are Hispanic; in some districts, the figure is 50 percent or higher. Many, possibly most, of those students are U.S. citizens, but a significant number are likely to be undocumented.

What message do we send children and teenagers when we tell them to work hard and succeed in school but add that state support for their education will end after 12th grade?

Indiana lawmakers will be back in session in January, and people and groups that care about education should put repeal of these unjust laws near the top of their legislative agendas.

Meanwhile, we can donate to the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, which, along with political activism, provides $1,000 college scholarships to a handful of undocumented students. That’s not much, but it’s more than the state of Indiana, with its $16 billion budget, is willing to do.

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