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In-state tuition and undocumented immigrants

Posted by on Monday, January 23, 2012 in Issue, Research News, Winter 2012.

New research from Peabody finds ideology and partisanship do not play a significant role in whether a state considers extending in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants in a study now published in an American Journal of Education article.

Over the last decade 12 states have passed bills expanding in-state tuition. Another 10 states gave such bills serious legislative consideration although they failed to pass. Michael McLendon, associate professor of public policy and education, wanted to find out what factors might put such a controversial initiative on the legislative agenda.

“Against the backdrop of an increasingly restrictive environment for immigration at the federal level, why have some states considered adopting laws that cut across the political grain?” McLendon said.

McLendon and his colleagues, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education Stella Flores and Center for Naval Analysis Research Analyst Christine Mokher, surveyed state legislative activity on the issue from 1999 to 2007, looking for political, economic or demographic characteristics common to states that consider in-state tuition bills. They found that states with a large foreign-born population, higher relative unemployment and a higher percentage of women in the legislature were more likely than others to consider tuition bills. Surprisingly, states considered politically liberal and those where legislatures are controlled by Democrats were no more likely than others to take up tuition legislation.

The tuition issue is likely to remain an important one for the foreseeable future, McLendon says. In 2005 alone, more than 65,000 children of undocumented workers graduated from U.S. high schools.

“Discerning the conditions under which [in-state tuition] policies become positioned for legislative consideration in some places may help shed light on the prospects for expanded postsecondary access for undocumented students elsewhere,” the researchers write. “Understanding the origins of these policies also may help policy makers better anticipate future claims on state coffers.”


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