Immigrants Seek Answers On State College Tuition

The question many young immigrants have had since President Obama's Deferred Action policy was announced is whether their new status would allow them to pay in-state tuition at state universities. Audie Cornish speaks with Maria Sacchetti, immigration reporter for The Boston Globe, about how various states are handling tuition matters.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Among those eligible for deferred action status are many who are in college or hope to go to college soon, and that raises the question: If a student is granted deferred action, does that make that student eligible for in-state tuition? Well, this week, the Obama administration said it's up to states to decide. To get a picture of how different states are handling tuition matters, we've called on Maria Sacchetti, immigration reporter for The Boston Globe. Welcome, Maria.

MARIA SACCHETTI: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: To start, prior to this point, how have states handled undocumented students?

SACCHETTI: Well, most don't do anything. Most have no policies that allow them to pay in-state tuition, so they're having to pay out-of-state rates, which can be double or triple the cost of resident tuition, meaning a lot of students end up not going to school, including people who did quite well in high school. Thirteen states do allow them to pay resident rates. These include some very important states for immigrants, including California and Texas. But some states actively prohibit it, and these include Arizona and Colorado.

CORNISH: And by prohibit it, you mean doesn't decline them admission altogether or just declines them an in-state tuition rate?

SACCHETTI: In-state tuition rate. Arizona voters, in 2006, passed Proposition 300, which prohibited on illegal immigrants from paying in-state rates. And now, the university system is studying Obama's new policy and trying to decide whether they should now pay resident tuition.

CORNISH: So how will this move to delay deportation and provide Social Security numbers to this class of undocumented people change things?

SACCHETTI: What I'm hearing from students is that this is likely to become the next battleground for them. Getting an education has been the heart of the student movement that really pushed President Obama to make this change, and now, they're really hoping to go to school. And some states have already come out and said, we're not going to let you pay in-state tuition. These include the Florida State University System and Georgia. Georgia doesn't even allow illegal immigrant students to go to its most competitive colleges, the colleges that turn away people. The idea is that they shouldn't take a seat away from someone who's here legally. But these are going to be important questions for states.

CORNISH: And even in-state tuition is prohibitively expensive to many families, and does this federal deferred action status give students access to more financial aid options in any way?

SACCHETTI: The U.S. Department of Education says students with deferred action are not eligible for federal financial aid. They can apply for private scholarships, and I think a couple of states allow them to apply for state aid. But in general, they're not eligible for a financial aid.

CORNISH: Now, overall, are states likely to see more undocumented students enrolling as a result of this policy?

SACCHETTI: Undocumented students are certainly hoping so, but it remains unclear. I mean, resident tuition, even that is very expensive in many states, so students are going to have to work. They're going to have save money, and they're going to have to do this probably without financial aid. And the state that are saying students can't pay resident tuition, that will put education even further out of reach. So they can work, and probably in many states, they'll get driver's licenses. But education is an unanswered question right now.

CORNISH: Maria Sacchetti is immigration reporter for The Boston Globe. Maria, thank you.

SACCHETTI: Thank you for having me.

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